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Dual-threat QB KJ Jefferson is a ‘home run’ transfer for UCF

There were plenty of schools that came after KJ Jefferson once the former Arkansas quarterback entered the NCAA transfer portal.

All along, however, it was UCF as the front-runner once he visited the Orlando campus. Once that decision was made, coach Gus Malzahn was rounding the bases. Jefferson was introduced to the media at FBC Mortgage Stadium on Thursday.

“This is a home run,” Malzahn said of Jefferson. “We were looking for a transfer quarterback at the end of the season … a veteran guy. When he went in the portal, he’s the guy we had circled. I have some history with him … recruited him out of high school, know a lot about him.

“Just for us and our offense, we think he’s the perfect fit, and not just as a player, but as a person. He’s used to winning and he’s really the perfect guy for us.”

The biggest lure for Jefferson rested in the opportunity to reunite with Malzahn.

Malzahn, when he was head coach at Auburn, recruited Jefferson out of North Panola High in Sardis, Miss. If not for Bo Nix, Malzahn might have had the opportunity to mold the next Cam Newton. But the Tigers took Nix and Arkansas landed Jefferson.

“Coming out of high school, I wanted to play for him and he can tell you that. … but [Auburn] in the ’19 class, they only took one quarterback so it’s a blessing to have it [come] full circle, to be here now and him be able to coach me and I just know I’m going to do great things here in his system. … I know I can be able to flourish in this system.”

So his decision was easy. He wanted to play for Malzahn, and the coach needed a veteran quarterback with the departure of John Rhys Plumlee.

“Coach Malzahn is a very genuine guy. On the field, I love the way he coaches and as a person, as a human,” Jefferson said. “I just know I’m going to do great things here in his system.

“Once I came on the visit, me and my mom, I knew this was the best place for me. I believe in Coach Malzahn and the coaching staff. I just knew this was going to be the best spot. Other schools that recruited me were Florida State, Miami, TCU, just to name a few.”

Many have drawn a comparison with Jefferson to Newton, the former Auburn and Carolina Panthers quarterback. Jefferson said he mimicked Newton and former NFL QB Michael Vick as a youngster.

“The things [Malzahn] did with Cam, I just want to always model myself after that. To be able to walk in those footsteps like Cam, I got to go the head guy and that’s Coach Malzahn … it’s a blessing to be in that position right now.

“I was watching Michael Vick, and as a high schooler … that’s when it was more Cam, and I got the comparisons and the similarities.”

In five seasons at Arkansas, one a three-game redshirt year, Jefferson put up impressive numbers and his dual-threat ability provides an instant, bonafide weapon that is a perfect fit for Malzahn’s offense.

Jefferson completed 66% of his passes, threw for 7,911 yards and 67 touchdowns, and in 962 pass attempts he only had 18 interceptions. He also ran for 1,876 yards on 523 carries and scored 21 more touchdowns.

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Jefferson described his style of play Thursday.

“Extending plays, making plays, making sure I’m getting the ball in the playmakers hands,” he said, “whether that’s me breaking a tackle, or making a guy miss, trying to create explosion.”

Jefferson has size at 6-3 and 247 pounds. He’s a load to bring down, his athleticism is dynamic and he’s an intelligent decision-maker.

“A lot of guys don’t like hitting big quarterbacks or big guys, period, so I try to use that to my advantage,” he said. “That’s my philosophy … I won’t shy away from contact, but I will be smart about it. I won’t just make a dumb decision and put my body at risk … but hits I can take, and hits I can give out, too.”

He’s played in the SEC, which many consider to be the best in college football. Jefferson will get a different look in the Big 12, and he’s an exciting addition to UCF as it tries to establish itself as a contender there.

“I’m looking forward to having a successful season and having fun with my teammates and coaching staff as well,” he said.

Jefferson also had communication with Plumlee during his transfer portal process.

“We’re both from Mississippi, so we look out for one another and he told me that Orlando was going to be a great spot and Coach Malzahn just believed and trusted in him,” he said. “I just thank him for giving me that advice going into my process.”

Jefferson has always been considered a runner, but insists there’s more to his game.

“A lot of people say I’m a runner .. but I want to become a passer,” he said. “Everybody can throw the ball, but can you pass the ball efficiently? That’s my main goal, being able to pass the ball efficiently … just getting it to the playmakers and let those guys make plays.”

So far, UCF has gained 14 transfers, including local products Goldie Lawrence from Sanford Seminole (FSU) and Jesiah Pierre of Mount Dora Christian (Florida/Texas Tech).

Malzahn said he will address all transfers in a press conference next week.

Chris Hays covers high school and college football and college football recruiting. You can find him on X @OC_ChrisHays and on Instagram @OS_ChrisHays. He can be reached vis email at chays@orlandosentinel.com.