Nov. 11, 1999
The career of wide receiver Patrick Jeffers reads like that of a Hollywood film script, and the storyline revolves around the same basic premise found in classic sports movies like "Hoosiers" and "Rudy". It is a fairytale story that began in the fall of 1992, when a young Jeffers arrived on UVa's historic grounds with a dream to play football. Without an athletic scholarship, he came to Virginia with no guarantee he would be awarded a spot on the team, but that did not deter the Fort Campbell KY., native from giving it his best shot.
"Coming out of high school and to Virginia, my only goal was that I did not want my athletic career to end," said Jeffers. "I thought UVa had a strong program, and I was willing to walk on. I knew if things didn't work out in football, that academically I would have a degree from a great University."
A solid high school athlete, the clean-cut young man from America's Heartland eventually earned a spot on the Cavalier squad as a walk-on player. With the odds stacked against him, Jeffers constantly worked hard, and before long he caught the attention of the coaching staff. By his second season with the Cavaliers, he earned a starting position at wide receiver. That year he led the team with 32 receptions for 580 yards and six touchdowns. In addition, his outstanding efforts as a sophomore also earned him honorable mention All-ACC honors. After only two seasons, the one-time walk-on now represented Virginia's top receiver and one of the conference's best offensive players.
During his last season with Virginia, Jeffers once again led the team in receptions (34), and for the second time in his career he was selected honorable mention All-ACC. As one of UVa's most unlikely heroes, Jeffers developed into one of the best receivers in school history. He currently ranks as Virginia's fifth all-time leader in both career receptions and career receiving yards.
Jeffers knows his experience at UVa taught him valuable lessons that still apply even at the professional level.
"Coming in as a walk-on, obviously you are at the bottom of the totem pole, and the coaches aren't going to give you that many opportunities. If you just serve day in and day out doing your job and doing what you are supposed to do, they are going to notice you eventually," said Jeffers. "Maybe they don't notice you everyday, but after a while the coaches realize you're a hard worker and decide maybe they should try to find a place for you."
After such a stellar career as a Cavalier, it only made sense one of Virginia's hardest working and most determined players would try to achieve success at the next level. In the 1996 NFL Draft, Jeffers was drafted in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos. As the 159th overall pick, he once again found himself fighting to secure his place on the team. Though he made the Broncos roster, Jeffers' first professional season proved to be disappointing. Inactive for most of the year, he played in only four games and saw limited action as a member of the special teams unit.
Jeffers' situation took a drastic turn for the better in 1997, and it remains one of the most memorable seasons of his career. As the Denver Broncos galloped their way to the Super Bowl, Jeffers was there every step of the way. He played in 10 regular season games and four post season contests. After only his second professional season, Jeffers held the proud honor of calling himself a Super Bowl Champion.
"To come in as a young player and be involved in a system like [the Denver Broncos], I couldn't ask for anything better," said Jeffers. "The way they did things was a model of success. Then, my second year, to play in and win a Superbowl--it happens so fast, and you just hope you appreciate it and understand how rare it is to get into a situation like that."
Just before the start of the 1998 season, Jeffers was traded to the Dallas Cowboys. After missing the Cowboys' entire training camp, he was forced to learn the team's system throughout the first half of the regular season. Once he finally got a grasp of Dallas' offense, Jeffers turned in a solid performance. He played in eight games, hauling in 18 receptions for 330 yards and two touchdowns. In a first-round playoff game against Arizona, Jeffers led the Cowboys with seven catches for 92 yards.
By the end of his third season, Jeffers had played on two of professional football's best teams. Some of the game's top players, like John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, all helped him adjust to the NFL. Jeffers made sure he took full advantage of his opportunities to learn from such great players.
"As a young player coming into the league, you look to the veterans and you have to understand there is a reason why they stick around as long as they do," said Jeffers. "Guys that have been around seven or eight years are hard workers. You see it on the practice field. They work harder than anyone else. In the meeting room, they are never confused about what they are supposed to do and know exactly what is going on in the game plan. I looked at veterans like Micheal Irvin, Troy Aikman, and John Elway, and I realized it's not all about ability. It's about hard work, and that's why these guys are successful."
Last spring, Jeffers joined a different team for the third consecutive season. He signed with the Carolina Panthers as a restricted free agent, because he saw an opportunity to join a program in the early stages of its rebuilding process. As new head coach George Seifert tries to redirect the Panthers, Jeffers looks to finally solidify his role as a player who can help the club build towards the future.
"I really hope this is a situation where I can establish myself for years to come. I only signed a one-year contract, so I am coming up on another year of free agency," said Jeffers. "I hate to think I have to do this all over again, but as it stands, that is a possibility. I would really like to stay [in Carolina] and secure a situation that's more long term."
So far in '99, Jeffers is on pace to record his best year as a pro. After the season's first six games, he had 17 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. As one of Carolina's top receivers, it is clear his patience and dedication to becoming better have finally paid off.
"You just have to keep working hard, buying your time, and realize that your chances will come," said Jeffers. "I think this is a year where my chances have been coming, and I've gotten a whole lot more opportunities. I have taken advantage of that, and sure enough my numbers have reflected it."
As a walk-on, a Super Bowl Champ, and now a solid NFL receiver, one thing always remains the same for Patrick Jeffers. No matter the situation, he always finds success through hard work, patience, and strong determination. The same virtues that helped him become one of Virginia's greatest receivers are now helping him catch on at the pro level.