Updated: October 31, 2009 at 12:00 am
FORT COLLINS • Tim Jefferson walks quietly through the rah-rah, ridiculously emotional world of college football.
His unbending calm confuses his Air Force teammates. They want him to shout and instead he talks in his flat Georgia drawl. He’s a radically steady presence.
Mr. Calm directed Air Force to an impressive 34-16 victory over the generous Colorado State Rams. It was an important step in the college career of the quarterback who will define the future of the Falcons offense.
Listen, I know there are Connor Dietz fans out there. He’s the shouting quarterback, the man who appeals to teammates’ emotions. Dietz, tough and quick, will make a terrific backup after he returns from a hand injury.
But there’s no doubt Jefferson is the better quarterback. He’s blessed with the more powerful arm and a better feel for the right time to pitch on the option. He frightens a defense in a way Dietz never will.
And Jefferson, a sophomore, is growing as a leader.
He’s learned from this season’s struggles, finding ways to connect with his more excitable teammates.
He endured a painful October, limping around on a wobbly right ankle. He lost his starting job to Dietz, who bolted from the bullpen to save a win over Wyoming.
Last weekend in Salt Lake City, Jefferson watched Dietz nearly deliver an upset over Utah. It was a strange sight. Jefferson, the reigning Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, had been banished to the bench.
He could have sulked.
He enjoyed the chance to, using his words, “relax for a little while.” He challenged himself to improve as a passer, a runner and, most of all, a leader.
Jefferson is a different kind of quarterback. He’s a loner, a quiet young man who prefers to stand by himself during games. He’s struggled to earn his teammates’ loyalty.
During his weeks of exile, Jefferson worked on encouraging his teammates. He busted outside his shell and offered compliments.
Of course, no one cares about a quarterback’s charisma if he can’t make plays.
Jefferson announced his return Saturday by immediately directing a 14-play, 80-yard drive, ending the march with an 8-yard touchdown fastball to Kyle Halderman.
He never slowed. He lowered his head and battled for tough yards, impressing his teammates and coach. Jefferson has too often been an easy target for tacklers.
But his finest moment came on a 78-yard drive to open the third quarter. The Falcons quickly found themselves in a third-and-18 hole at the 14-yard line. A comfortable 14-0 lead had turned to a precarious 17-10 advantage. The game was teetering.
For most of this season, converting on third-and-18 was a virtual impossibility for the Falcons. Coach Troy Calhoun has refused to take risks, largely because he didn’t trust his quarterbacks’ arms.
But Calhoun had seen a new maturity in Jefferson and called a bold passing play, sending receiver Kevin Fogler on a long route down the sideline.
Jefferson found Fogler for a 34-yard gain. It was a fine throw, an even better catch and the big gain will deliver fear to coaches at Army, UNLV and BYU. Jefferson announced the Falcons can offer more than a one-note, run-too-much offense.
Three plays later, Jefferson banged helmets with CSU’s Ivory Herd. The hit alarmed center Mike Hampton.
“You all right?” Hampton asked Jefferson in a loud voice.
“Yes,” Jefferson said. “Now let’s go.”
He didn’t shout the words. He didn’t need to.