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The Perfect Catch

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery's childhood prepared him to be the centerpiece of the Eagles' offense

On the night of Friday, March 10, Alshon Jeffery headed out to DelFrisco’s Steakhouse in Philadelphia just hours after putting pen to paper on his one-year deal. It was Jeffery’s first chance to bond with his new quarterback Carson Wentz.

“It was a long conversation like I’ve known him all my life like a little brother,” Jeffery says. “He wants to get better.”

When Jeffery found out that he was going to leave the Chicago Bears after five seasons to join the Eagles, he told Wentz in a text message that he believes that he can help him win an MVP award. The quarterback simply replied that he wants a Super Bowl championship, instead.

Wentz impressed Jeffery during last season’s Week 2 Monday night matchup in the Windy City. It was Wentz’s first career road game, let alone prime-time contest. As the Eagles pulled away in the second half of the 29-14 victory, Jeffery started watching Wentz from the sideline. He was impressed with the rookie quarterback’s poise and playmaking ability.

Another guest at the dinner was Eagles director of pro scouting Dwayne Joseph, who worked in the Bears’ personnel department during Jeffery’s tenure in Chicago.

Running backs coach Duce Staley was also at the feast.

What’s the connection?

Simple, South Carolina.

“Duce is a legend in South Carolina. Everyone in South Carolina looks up to him,” Jeffery says of the South Carolina Hall of Famer. “Everyone always talks about Duce.”

Jeffery grew up in St. Matthews, South Carolina, part of Calhoun County. If there’s any question as to whether or not Jeffery’s hometown is near and dear to him, the name of his Instagram profile is “calhounpresident.”

“It taught me a lot of life lessons,” Jeffery says. “Calhoun has its own little world, but it’s a different world outside of Calhoun.”

Jeffery is the second youngest of four boys. Charles and Darren, the two older brothers, lived with their grandmother, Adell, just up the road. Alshon lived with his youngest brother, Shamier, and his parents, Deloris and Charles.

Their neighborhood wasn’t the best. “Whatever you want to do, it was there for you,” he says. But at the same time, if the people in the neighborhood knew your parents, they’d look out for you.

Not that Jeffery needed any motivation. He learned a strong work ethic from his parents. His mother worked multiple jobs while he was a child and his father was in construction.

“My mom always told me, ‘Gifts and expensive things are never going to teach you nothin’ about life. You always have to have respect. Respect is going to take you further than anything. No matter what you do, you’ve always got to work,’” he recalls.

Jeffery was also inspired by his older brothers who were successful athletes at Calhoun County High School. Jeffery initially made a name for himself on the hardwood. He led Calhoun County to four state championships.

But his high school football coach, Walter Wilson, saw how Jeffery’s ability to use his big frame could lead to a bright future on the gridiron. It clicked for Jeffery when he realized that being 6-3 was rare in a good way in football, but not so much in basketball.

Jeffery’s prowess on the football field provided him the chance to go to college. The decision came down to two SC schools - the University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina. Jeffery’s mother admitted that it would be difficult to fly across the country on a weekly basis in the fall to watch him play. Needless to say, the home school won out.

“It was a tough decision to tell Pete Carroll that I wasn’t going to USC. But Pete told me that he’d never leave USC, so I think it worked out,” says Jeffery of Carroll, who did leave USC and is now the Seahawks’ head coach.

Just like Staley, Jeffery also craved the chance to make the South Carolina program a better one instead of playing at an already-established school. Jeffery finished his Gamecocks career with 183 receptions for 3,042 yards and 23 touchdowns. All three of those marks rank either first or second in school history.

Jeffery was a second-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2012. He showed promise as a rookie, catching 24 passes for 367 yards and scoring three touchdowns. But his career took flight in his second year when Mike Groh was hired to be the wide receivers coach.

“The way he approaches the game, his preparation, I feel like he’s playing through us,” Jeffery says. “He’s the best coach for us. He’s going to turn your weaknesses into your strengths. He wants you to be the best at everything. He helped me out a lot in terms in how I prepare. He’s changed my game dramatically.”

From 2013-14, Jeffery hauled in 174 catches for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after the 2013 campaign and was named the league’s Most Improved Player by the Pro Football Writers Association.

Injuries and instability at the quarterback position impacted his numbers over the past two seasons. He comes to Philadelphia with a franchise quarterback in place and the ability to set the standard at the wide receiver position once again.

“I embrace that, but I always tell people even though they say I’m that guy, we’re all that guy,” Jeffery says. “I want you to believe in yourself just like how you believe in me. If I’m up here, we all should be up here. Things happen during the course of the game, so I need you to be there. It’s like a family, everyone needs to rely on one another.”

Jeffery is also reunited with the position coach who maximized his talents in Chicago.

"I can say this with absolute confidence; I'm really glad he's an Eagle," Groh says. "I know Alshon. I know the type of player he is on Sunday, the way he goes about his business. I certainly know what he can do for quarterbacks and the plays that he can make in tight coverage and the weapon that he'll be down for us in the red zone.

"He's got size. He's got length, but he's got natural ball skills and ball reaction. Really unique. When he's at his best, he can make plays when he's closely covered and those contested plays are the plays that make the difference in games. He's got that special ability."

Jeffery has 14 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown in his first three games as an Eagle. In Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Giants, Jeffery caught a 19-yard pass from Wentz and got out of bounds with just one second left on the clock to set up Jake Elliott's game-winning and franchise-record 61-yard field goal.

“Never quit. Just keep fighting. We’re brothers," Jeffery said of the dramatic victory. "We battle with one another. We believe in one another. That’s all I can say."

Story by Chris McPherson. Photos and design by Kiel Leggere, Loraine Griffiths, Drew Hallowell, and Hunter Martin.

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