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Baylor's Johnny Jefferson excited to build off bowl stardom

WACO, Texas – Johnny Jefferson must be a little more famous this semester, right?

That would make sense. All he did with his winter break was rush for 299 yards in Baylor’s Russell Athletic Bowl upset of North Carolina.

Jefferson was one of the kings of bowl season, finishing with exactly 1,000 rushing yards on the season after leading the Bears to a record-shattering 645-yard rushing performance. He made a name for himself. So how’s that paying off around campus?

“I wouldn’t say I’m famous,” Jefferson said, “but I think it was a good opportunity for people to like see what I’m really capable of. It was just a steppingstone.”

He knows that after the best night of his young playing career better days are ahead.

Jefferson finished No. 4 in the nation in yards per carry (an efficient 7.35 average), putting him in good company with Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. He finished his sophomore campaign on a tear, rushing for 601 yards and 8 per carry over his final four games while Shock Linwood sat out with a foot fracture.

The next step? Proving he can do this consistently. That’s what running backs coach Jeff Lebby is demanding this spring.

“Evidently I know what I’m capable of, but I’ve got to show Coach [Art] Briles what I’m capable of,” Jefferson said. “I’m excited to see what he’s planning to do with me to help the offense.”

The uber-productive Linwood goes into his senior year only 204 yards away from breaking Baylor’s career rushing record. But he’s sidelined this spring while he recovers from foot surgery. Jefferson isn’t going to waste this opportunity.

He loves and respects Linwood. But of course he wants to be the Bears’ No. 1 back.

“I wouldn’t be a competitor and I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I was just like, ‘I’m OK with being second,’” Jefferson said. “In Coach Briles’ offense, everybody gets an opportunity to touch the ball. It’s just a fact of if you’re going to capitalize on it or not.”

He made the most of his backup role in 2015, becoming the first Power 5 back to rush for 1,000 yards on fewer than 150 carries since Lache Seastrunk, his old teammate, did it in 2012.

Jefferson redshirted and learned from Seastrunk in 2013. He wasn’t thrilled about redshirting at the time, but he’s grateful he did.

“The offense is so fast that it’s good for anybody to redshirt,” Jefferson said. “By taking the years off, I really got to learn the playbook and learn from guys who were ahead of me like Seastrunk and Glasco [Martin]. I got to take bits and pieces from all those guys.”

When the injuries piled up on the Bears late last season, Jefferson’s niche revealed itself. Put him behind center and he’ll run wild. Jefferson racked up 134 rushing yards in the second half alone vs. Texas. He got a little more time to practice taking snaps, and then he torched the Tar Heels.

The Wildcat-inspired work felt easy, almost second nature, to Jefferson after his days of toting the rock at nearby Killeen High. Always helps to have those spacious run lanes, too, that his linemen paved against UNC. Briles liked it enough that he has threatened to keep evolving the quarterback-less attack.

“I don’t think you’ve seen the last of it,” Briles said. “That’s all I’ll say.”

Next time Briles asks Jefferson to take more snaps behind center, the junior will be ready to roll.

“No complaints at all. You won’t hear any coming out of my mouth,” he said. “Maybe just a big smile from cheek to cheek.”

He’s game for anything that keeps him on the field. Jefferson is determined to prove throughout this spring, summer and fall that the 299-yard spree was just the beginning.

“Oh, I’m really excited,” he said. “More doors are open. More opportunities.”