The Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines are locked in a heated battle. The game is on the line and the tension is rising when Van Jefferson’s phone vibrates and he looks down. It’s Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson.
This isn’t the game on Saturday but a Family Feud style contest where Florida and Michigan are paired up against one another, both teams trying to win a wrestling style belt that they have been competing for all week. Patterson ended up answering the final question correctly to give Michigan the belt, but it was a moment before his final answer that stood out.
Patterson and Jefferson were teammates for two seasons at Ole Miss. Both left Ole Miss when sanctions were handed out by the NCAA and the two went on an official visit to Michigan. Shea was hooked and locked into the Wolverines immediately. Van, not so much, but Patterson tried to convince him.
“Our original plan was Deontay Anderson and Van Jefferson and myself to possibly all come to Michigan,” Patterson said. “I’m not sure what happened.”
They visited on December 9th and Patterson was seen throwing snowballs in the Big House before the trio took in a basketball game. Fans had signs in the stands that read “Ole Mich” — a play on Ole Miss and Michigan. Van wanted to like Michigan. He wanted to keep catching passes from Patterson but he wasn’t sold.
“We took a visit up there. We were both, you know, saying we were going to Michigan but I just didn’t feel like that was the place for me so, he was pushing for me to come there but ultimately I wanted to be a Gator,” Jefferson said.
They were supposed to be a package deal. Patterson’s heart was set on Michigan even before his official visit was over but Jefferson wanted to keep looking. His next stop was highly unlikely.
If you don’t know about the Egg Bowl and the rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State than this may not make sense but imagine the Florida-Florida State rivalry. Then put it in a state that has nothing else going for it other than college football and imagine the intensity of it. Jefferson was an Ole Miss guy. Dan Mullen was the former coach of Mississippi State. They’re enemies, but Mullen wouldn’t let that old rivalry get in the way of trying to land a receiver that could help his new ballclub. So he reached out and Jefferson was receptive. He took a visit to Florida and he bought in.
“I played against him and you could see what he did at Mississippi State and how he turned that program around so I know when he came here he’s gonna do it at Florida,” Jefferson said. “Especially at a top program—not saying that Mississippi State’s not a top program, but I guess it’s like, I don’t wanna say it. I think just seeing that at Mississippi State and coming to Florida you know he’s gonna be successful.”
So Jefferson pulled the trigger and became a Gator. He told Mullen and the Florida staff.
That was the easy part.
He then had to call his friend and break the news to him.
“He asked me ‘where you gonna go man?’ I was like ‘I think I’m gonna go to Florida.’ He was like ‘Why?’ I said, ‘man, Coach Mullen, the way he’s talking to me, how he’s gonna change the program around, I wanna be apart of that,’” Jefferson said. “So he was still trying to persuade me but Coach Mullen has done a great job in his first year, especially playing in a big time bowl game and a top tier program, it’s gonna be exciting.”
The friendship never wavered. After games this season Jefferson would ask me how Michigan did and how Shea did. When Shea played poorly or Michigan lost you could see the anguish and disappointment on Van’s face. Patterson did the same. The two would text or FaceTime throughout the season to keep in touch.
This week is surreal for them. Not only are they on opposing sidelines for the first time ever but it’s the first time either of them have played in a bowl game. The experience has been a lot to take in but, in a way, they’re still taking in this new experience together.