COLUMBIA (TheBigSpur) - "He loves to compete," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said. "When I tell him about the big stage, you oughta see the twinkle in his eye. He loves it."
That player is Alshon Jeffery.
Always humble, the Biletnikoff Award finalist is quick to credit his teammates, coaches, family – really anyone but himself for being where he is today. But begin to talk about what the Gamecocks (9-3, 5-3) are playing for on Saturday and his face lights up.
He's trying to say the right things. "It's a big game but it's just a normal game," Jeffery said, but he knows it's a little more than that. Reflecting further, the sophomore goes deeper. A Palmetto State native, he knows what it means not only to the program but to this state.
"That's the reason I came here," Jeffery said. "Do something that's never been done. It was a big part of my decision. We only got one championship here playing football and that was an ACC Championship. I'm trying to accomplish that SEC Championship."
Jeffery always seems to elevate his play when all eyes are on him. It's not that he has had any poor games this season, every outing he's had at least three catches and at least 53 yards, but when the St. Matthews native is on a big stage, his game rises to a new level.
And as Spurrier says, this is the big stage.
In primetime on ESPN in late September, Jeffery caught eight passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-27 loss to Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. At the time, it was a career high in receptions and in yardage.
He has since had a nine catch game against Vanderbilt but the yardage record from his trip to The Plains remains the same.
Reflecting, Jeffery said he doesn't remember what Auburn did to try to stop him that night. Whatever it was, it didn't work.
"I was just trying to get open, really," Jeffery said.
He made it look pretty easy that night. He was stopped really just one play, the last play. Connor Shaw lofted a pass in his direction at the front corner of the end zone with the clock winding down. When No. 1 in visiting white gets two hands on the ball, all expect him to come down with it.
But two defenders draped on him, one dislodged the ball and the other picked it off. The Tigers may want to revisit that coverage again. Wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. doesn't see Auburn changing their style too much to try to slow down his top wideout.
"A little bit but not really," Spurrier Jr. said when asked if he expected Auburn to change their game plan for Jeffery. "Everyone they've played, they've played pretty much their typical defense. They've given up some big yards by some guys but they've still played well enough on defense to win. They've talked about trying to double team him some here and there but they'll play their defense."
Auburn seemingly would have to try a little something different this time around though. Jeffery and quarterback Stephen Garcia hooked up almost at will that Saturday. The Tigers have the worst pass defense in the conference allowing 255 yards per game though, so it may not matter.
"I'm just preparing for everything," Jeffery said. "However they double team me or triple team me, it doesn't matter to me as long as we come out on top."
There is also a behind-the-scenes story for Jeffery, who will stand on the opposite sideline for the second time this season and see former high school teammate Eric Mack. A reserve offensive lineman, Mack was committed to South Carolina until late in the process when he decided to head about 350 miles or so out of state.
The two still talk from time to time. In fact, Jeffery admitted that Mack called him Tuesday night and a few of his Auburn teammates were talking a bit of trash in the background.
It will be about 48 hours or so until Jeffery and the rest of the country will find out whether the Tigers will back up their talk this time around. But Jeffery and his Carolina brethren backed up the words he spoke after the nail-biting loss just over two months ago.
"I told him, 'We're gonna see yall again. We're gonna play yall again and it's going to be for the SEC Championship and we're going to see who comes out on top,'" Jeffery said.
Mack will watch from the sideline as the action unfolds on the big stage. Jeffery, however, will have his time to shine. The high definition CBS cameras in the Georgia Dome are sure to pick up that twinkle in his eye Spurrier spoke of.
"This game right here is what you live for," Jeffery said. "Have to make plays and be in the moment."