Atlanta – Shea Patterson and Van Jefferson were teammates at Ole Miss, good friends, the stay-in-touch-constantly-by-texting types of friends who now find themselves on opposite sides of the field.
Patterson is Michigan’s efficient quarterback. Jefferson is Florida’s leading receiver. Both provided a spark for their teams, which will face other in the Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. Michigan (10-2) is No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and Florida (9-3) is No. 10.
“Me and Shea talked and was like, ‘Man, this is crazy we’re playing in a bowl game against each other,’” Jefferson said this week. “It’s kinda crazy I’m playing against him.”
They called and laughed about the coincidence when the bowl pairings were announced.
“But I can’t be talking to him like that during the week, not if I’m going to lock in and get ready to go,” Jefferson said, laughing.
Patterson decided to have some fun with Jefferson during a Peach Bowl function Wednesday night at the College Football Hall of Fame. The Michigan players were upstairs touring the museum while the Gators were already seated for dinner on the floor below, which can be seen from above.
Jefferson had no idea where Patterson was as he texted him for about 10 minutes before he told him to look up as he raised his hand to be located.
“We were texting each other, messing with each other, talking crap to each other, and he had no idea where I was, so I was sitting there laughing at him laugh at what I would send him,” Patterson said, smiling. “And at one point I said, ‘Look up,’ and we kinda exchanged something, but I can’t tell you.”
Jefferson, who played his early years of high school football at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s when his father was on the Detroit Lions staff, safety Deontay Anderson and Patterson – three teammates from Ole Miss – visited Michigan last December when they were considering their transfer options.
“We talked about (going to Michigan),” Jefferson said. “We took a visit up there. We were both saying we were going to Michigan, but I didn’t feel like that was the place for me. (Patterson) was pushing for me to come there, but ultimately, I wanted to be here.
"It was cold. I grew up in Michigan for a little bit, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I wanted to be someplace warm.”
They made their respective decisions, but while getting to their new schools wasn’t an issue, receiving a transfer waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility to play this fall was not. The half-dozen Ole Miss transfers, who believed they were misled by former coach Hugh Freeze regarding NCAA violations the program incurred -- among other penalties and probation, a two-year bowl ban -- sought representation from Arkansas-based lawyer Tom Mars.
Mars had represented former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in his defamation case against the school, and he had broad knowledge of the program’s situation after countless hours of research and interviews. He was the best hope, only hope, really, for these players to be granted immediate eligibility.
Patterson would become the focus of Mars’ strategy to ensure immediate eligibility in part because of Michigan’s visibility and wide-spread media coverage. Once that was obtained for Patterson after nearly five months of an arduous and sometimes tedious process dealing with the NCAA, the dominos began to fall for the other transfers.
Patterson was jokingly asked if Jefferson has ever thanked him for being the poster boy for immediate eligibility.
“We don’t really talk about that too much,” he said, smiling. “I don’t think he knows a whole lot about that. I think we both just know Tom Mars.”
Jefferson said he knows how Patterson’s journey set the table for the other Ole Miss players to be cleared to play this fall.
“He kind of set the tone with that, especially with Tom Mars,” Jefferson said. “(Patterson) did help out with that. I should thank him for that, but I haven’t though. I’ll tell him.”
The two have been vital to their team’s successes. Jefferson leads the Gators in receiving with 439 yards and six touchdowns, while Patterson has been an unflappable leader and has been cool and efficient while earning the team’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
“I think he’s a really good guy at extending plays,” Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of Patterson. “He does have the ability to pull the ball on the quarterback runs and can make things happen, so you always have to account for him in the run game. He’s a guy that can throw the ball down the field. But when it breaks down, I think the biggest asset he gives people is his ability extend the play to allow explosive plays down the field.
“He’s made their offensive very efficient. He’s allowed them to make explosive plays in the passing game because he can extend it, he can put the ball in the right spot. He’s done a really good job of getting them close to the College Football Playoff.”
Patterson did not hold back describing Jefferson’s strengths.
“I think he’s one of the best, if not the best, route runner I’ve ever thrown to,” he said. “He’s very football-savvy. He’s tall, lengthy, athletic, and he’s sneaky fast. He’s got long strides. His 40 time won’t tell how fast his game speed is. If you’re depending on a guy to get open and he has to get open, I think he has a very good shot at that.”
Grantham described Jefferson as one of the “smoothest” and smartest receivers he’s been around, and Florida offensive coordinator John Hevesy said Jefferson’s attention to detail comes from being around his father, NFL receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, a former NFL receiver.
“He’s very meticulous,” Grantham said. “Van’s dad probably worked on him to not just, ‘Hey, go catch a ball,’ but be meticulous with route running and your feet and mechanics your fundamentals. He’s very smooth in terms of running routes.”
Patterson and Jefferson will be on the same field Saturday, but this time, Patterson won’t be throwing him the ball.
They both enjoyed the time they've been able to spend together this week, but they really haven’t been that far apart this past year. Jefferson said he would watch Michigan games and keep tabs on Patterson, and he said Patterson would call to ask about Florida's games. One Florida beat writer said this week that after every Gators game, Jefferson would ask him for a Michigan update and want to know how his friend played.
“We talked (Thursday) and I told him, ‘Man, you’re doing good this season. Keep it up. But Saturday, it’s on,’” Jefferson said, smiling.
Patterson has reflected on the journey they have taken from Ole Miss, through the eligibility waiver process and now the fact their teams will play each other Saturday. They’re both happy with the choices they’ve made.
“It’s weird, but having gone through it, I understand what he went through with the whole transfer process and the stuff we went through at Ole Miss,” Patterson said. “I’m so excited to see him back out there, doing what he loves. It was really good to see him. I haven’t see him in a while. Just excited to watch him play.”
Michigan vs. Florida
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Records: Michigan 10-2, Florida 9-3
Line: Michigan by 6