KJ Jefferson out to prove himself to UCF teammates, coaches

When KJ Jefferson was considering a move from Arkansas to UCF, he wanted the opinion of someone familiar with the program.

Someone who knew the roster. Someone who could speak about coach Gus Malzahn and the Knights’ offensive system. Someone who, like Jefferson, played quarterback at an elite level. Someone who just happened to be a close friend.

John Rhys Plumlee had just wrapped up a successful two-year stint at UCF when he heard from Jefferson.

“We texted back and forth,” Plumlee said from Dallas, where he is training for the upcoming NFL draft. “It’s a big decision, and I told him Mississippi to Orlando was the right move.”

The quarterbacks grew up in Mississippi; Plumlee in Hattiesburg and Jefferson in Sardis. While they excelled at football in high school, they never faced one another.

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They quickly developed a long-lasting friendship when they spent a week together as roommates preparing for a state All-Star game.

“We wanted to play together and now I followed him here,” Jefferson said.

Added Plumlee: “It’s pretty cool that we ended up at the same spot.”

Jefferson has been on campus preparing for his first season with the Knights.

As he stepped on the practice field for the first day of spring camp, the fifth-year senior couldn’t help but feel jittery.

“I had a little bit of nervousness going out there because I didn’t know what to expect, but I got over it quickly,” said Jefferson. “Once I threw the ball around a bit, I was good. I’m back in my element, back in that mode.”

Monday’s practice was about new beginnings for Jefferson, who transferred in early January after five seasons with the Razorbacks, where he set several school records. He passed for 7,911 yards with 67 touchdowns while rushing for 1,876 yards with 21 touchdowns.

Since arriving on campus, he’s been working to acclimate himself to the Knights’ offense and his new teammates.

“I’ve played a lot of ball, and I just wanted to be able to come into a new team and try to earn their trust,” said Jefferson

“He wants to be good,” said Malzahn. “He’s a very talented guy, so learning a new offense, a new terminology and everything that goes with it is great. I love his attitude and his approach.”

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Jefferson has already won over most of his teammates.

“KJ is a great leader and a great person,” said fifth-year running back RJ Harvey. “He’s still learning, and we’re helping each other out. We’re going to get rolling.”

“It’s great to have a quarterback with whom I can build a relationship,” said fifth-year receiver Kobe Hudson. “We can talk about the ball off the field, which will carry over into the season.”

Receiver Xavier Townsend has noticed similarities between Jefferson and Plumlee, but he’s also seen their differences.

“KJ’s got an excellent arm, and so does John, but I see KJ as more of a deep-ball threat and that excites all the receivers,” said Townsend. “They’re both good quarterbacks, good in the pocket and can extend plays.”

The most significant difference is their size.

Plumlee is 6-0 and 200 pounds. Jefferson is 6-3 and 247.

Many have compared Jefferson’s physical attributes to his idol, Cam Newton.

“I try to model my game after Cam in any way I can, in any form I can,” he said.

Search Jefferson’s phone and it’ll have YouTube videos of Newton covering everything from game highlights to workouts.

“His approach to the game, his mindset and the swagger he brings to the table, that’s what I want to be able to present to my teammates,” he said, “[having] the confidence to go out there and be the best version of yourself.”

Part of the attraction of joining UCF was playing for Malzahn, who coached Newton at Auburn in 2010.

That season, Newton threw for 2,854 passing yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns. He led the Tigers to a national title and won the Heisman Trophy.

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Plumlee is excited to see what Jefferson can do at UCF.

“He’ll do great in that offense and with his new teammates,” Plumlee said. “He’s going to do big things.”

Before they were through talking, Plumlee offered his friend some advice: Just be yourself.

Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on X at @osmattmurschel.