By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
4:31 PM EDT, September 29, 2011
When he was being recruited by Navy, Tim Jefferson wasn't concerned about competing with Ricky Dobbs for the quarterback job one day. He had played against Dobbs in high school outside Atlanta and more than held his own. But as he was trying to decide between his college offers from Navy and Air Force, two factors pushed Jefferson west to Colorado Springs rather than north to Annapolis.
Dobbs, who was a year ahead of Jefferson in school, wasn't one of them.
"I knew Ricky would be there whenever I got to the academy," Jefferson recalled earlier this week in a teleconference with reporters. "Him being there didn't really have much of an influence on my decision. I didn't have the greatest relationship with Coach Paul Johnson at the time. That, along with wanting to be a pilot, that's why I turned down the Naval Academy to come here.
Which made last season particularly satisfying for Jefferson, by then in his second full season as Air Force's starting quarterback.
In October, Jefferson helped the Falcons end Navy's seven-year grip on the Commander in Chief's Trophy. He scored on a 50-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter and then scored Air Force's other touchdown in a 14-6 victory. He also hit 5 of 7 passes for 83 yards.
In December, Jefferson completed 11 of 23 passes for 117 yards in a 14-7 win over Johnson and Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl.
"That definitely served as great satisfaction after we won that ballgame," Jefferson said. "I went up to Coach Johnson after the game and I told him good game and what not, but I just left it at that."
Jefferson said that the two victories, which were part of a 9-4 season for the Falcons, remain the two biggest highlights of his college career.
He and his Air Force teammates will be looking to create another highlight Saturday when they play the Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in a noon kickoff that will mark the first time the game is on national network television.
Jefferson has been compared to Dobbs ever since he started playing for the Falcons because of their ability to throw out of the option, as well as for their athleticism.
"He came from a passing backround in high school, they threw the ball almost every day, where I came from a triple-option offense," Jefferson said of Dobbs, who graduated last year and is now coaching at the Navy prep school. "Our difference is in our running ability. He was much more of a pounder inside. He would take a hit on every single play. I'm more of a sprinter. I'd rather get to the outside than going up against a 300-pound defensive lineman."
Fifth-year Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is not exactly effusive in his praise of the job Jefferson has done.
Asked to compare Jefferson's career to the one Dobbs had at Navy, Calhoun said, "He's been steady, that he has been. Anytime you play in a major conference over a four-year stretch, you balance playing some pretty sturdy non-conference foes in addition to your service academy games, and to have multiple years of being part of winning teams and part of bowl team, down the road as you get older those things are a source of pride."
It was during a three-week stretch last season that Jefferson emerged as the star in Air Force's option offense. In a 27-24 loss at Oklahoma, Jefferson rushed 13 times for 96 yards and a touchdown, while completing 8 of 14 passes for another 107 yards. Two weeks later, he helped Calhoun get his first win over Navy. It was Navy's first loss to a service academy team in 16 games.
"It was a great moment for both of us," Jefferson said.
Jefferson, whose first significant playing time came after he nearly helped Air Force upset Navy in Colorado Springs as a freshman reserve, said he never was totally comfortable running Calhoun's offense until the middle of last season.
"I don't know what it was, but something just clicked," Jefferson said. "My passing yardage started increasing. I became more efficient as a runner. Overall it seemed like our offense just became more productive. I can't relate to one specific moment. It just happened."
Jefferson played well in losses to close losses to San Diego State (15 carries for 88 yards) and Utah (8 of 13 passing for 201 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, 16 carries for for 67 yards) as well as a 15-point win at UNLV (7 of 9 for 111 yards and a touchdown passing, 16 carries for 64 yards rushing with three touchdowns). He is coming off 11-for-13 passing for 178 yards and three touchdowns against Tennessee State.
While certainly more erratic than either Dobbs or current Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor, Jefferson is still capable of making plays with his feet or arm at any moment.
The Navy coaches have been reminding the Midshipmen of that since they started practicing for the Falcons last week.
"Jefferson does a great job. He's an experienced quarterback, he knows where to go with the ball in the passing game, he's dangerous when he tucks the ball and runs with it, [and] when he gets out on the edge, he's got great speed to get the ball into the end zone," said Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green. "He's big, he's physical. This is the best Air Force team we've ever played — it's not even close — mainly because of the guy they have at quarterback. He's doing a great job."
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