STORRS - Given the number of quarterbacks on their roster who have been sidelined by injuries, itâs a wonder Elijah Jeffreys didnât get a late-night call or text from one of his UConn football coaches last month asking if the redshirt freshman could warm up his old throwing arm.
The plea for help never came, but itâs just as well. It seems as if the standout high school quarterback has made a full transition to wide receiver.
That certainly was evidenced in the Huskiesâ loss to South Florida last weekend when Jeffreys turned a short screen pass from Mike Beaudry in the second quarter of the game into a 25-yard touchdown.
Yet another of the Huskiesâ talented young wide receivers - UConn is also relying on true freshmen Matt Drayton and Cam Ross, along with redshirt freshman Heron Maurriseau these days - Jeffreys made the first two catches of his career against the Bulls, including the initial touchdown of his college career.
âIt was awesome to see him do that,â Beaudry said. âHe works very hard.â
As pleased as he was to help get Jeffreys into the scoring column, Beaudry admits he wasnât entirely sure who he was going to throw the ball to when it was snapped.
âIâll be honest with you, I didnât know he was in the game. I threw it to him and I was like âOh, crap! Thatâs Elijah!â He took it and made a great play, ran in and scored,â Beaudry said.
The play on which the 6-foot-4, 207-pound Jeffreys scored began with some confusing misdirection. UConnâs left tackle, Ryan VanDemark, made a late move and lined up far to the right of the formation and it appeared as if the Huskies were going to run some kind of screen or trick play to that side.
Instead, Beaudry hit Jeffreys with a short pass to the left as he cut behind another of UConnâs offensive linemen and the former quarterback largely did the rest.
As surprised as Beaudry was that Jeffreys was in the game, the receiver himself kind of felt the same.
âI only ran that I think one time in practice, once or twice,â Jeffreys said. âSo for me to be in the game and them to call it, I knew what I was going to do. I just ran it and it went well.â
Beaudry even admitted the playâs design wasnât always for Jeffreys to get the ball, either.
âThe funny thing is we never really threw that screen out of it. It was always something else,â Beaudry said.
Jeffreys certainly was something else when he was at Somerville (Mass.) High, a standout quarterback on the football team and sprinter on the track team.
But many coaches, including UConnâs Randy Edsall, thought he might be better suited to another position on the football field.
When Jeffreys came to UConnâs summer camp in 2018, Edsall became convinced he wanted Jeffreys to play for the Huskies, and to do so as a wide receiver.
âWe didnât feel as though he would be a quarterback,â Edsall said. âYou can get guys to come to camp and work them out and see them, so camp is always a big thing for us. You can put a watch on them yourself, you get around them and see how they work.â
Jeffreys didnât mind the move, especially as UConn had need of wide receivers and it probably meant heâd have a chance to play much earlier in his career than if he had stayed a quarterback.
âI always wanted to play early in my career so I felt the switch from quarterback to receiver, I wanted to do that. I felt like that was the best fit for me,â Jeffreys said.
Of course, he admits that learning a new position wasnât the easiest endeavor.
âIt was tough,â Jeffreys said.
Edsall has watched as Donovan Williams and Jay Rose have made similar transitions in the last few years at UConn - both are former quarterbacks now playing tight end - and figured it might take Jeffreys a little bit of time to become familiar with the techniques heâd need as a receiver and the playbook the Huskies use.
âWhen you do those sort of things, it takes time,â Edsall said. âHe had no idea how to play wide receiver and heâs just starting to get the hang of it now.â
UConn (1-4, 0-2 American), which visits Tulane on Saturday, isnât quite getting the hang of how to win these days. But the flashes shown by players like Jeffreys have the Huskies believing the time is coming when that, too, will change.