Since joining Division I-A in 1992, the Nevada Wolf Pack have appeared in 11 bowl games, with this year's loss in the New Mexico Bowl representing the team's eighth consecutive bowl berth. Yet despite Nevada's recent run of success, the program has been relatively unsuccessful in producing professional prospects. With his announcement on Sunday that he will skip his senior season to declare for the NFL Draft, junior running back Stefphon Jefferson hopes to join the likes of Frank Hawkins, Charles Mann and Brock Marion in establishing a successful NFL career after a college career in Reno.
Jefferson is coming off of an outstanding junior season in which he ranked second in the nation in both rushing yards per game and points per game, setting single-season school records in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and carries in the process. He helped lead the Wolf Pack to a 7-5 regular season, a repeat of the team's 2011 record.
2013 will be a transitional year for the Wolf Pack, as the team works to replace recently retired head coach Chris Ault. Ault has been the undisputed leader of the Wolf Pack over the past quarter century, and his absence on the sidelines will be a major change for the university. The loss of Jefferson may not be as significant, but it will represent a major challenge for whoever is named the next head coach of the Wolf Pack.
Jefferson's 1,883 rushing yards represented over half of the team's rushing yards in 2012, with only quarterback Cody Fajardo's 1,121 yards rivaling Jefferson's output. Besides Jefferson and Fajardo, just senior running back Nick Hale and backup quarterback Devin Combs earned over 100 rushing yards. The team saw a few rushing yards from its wide receivers, but the next running back in line to post any yards was freshman Anthony Knight, who picked up 10 yards and a touchdown in four rushing attempts.
There is not much help on the way for the Wolf Pack's thin running back core. Of the 24 commits in the 2012 recruiting class, the only running back is fullback Xavier Stephens. The 2013 class has not been much more successful. Nevada made offers to five running backs, with only junior college running back Don Jackson, the lowest rated of the quintet, committing to the university. Jackson is a talented running back as he was also recruited by schools such as Florida International and Iowa State, but he does not appear to be anywhere near the level of Jefferson.
Stefphon Jefferson should have brighter days ahead of him in the NFL, and he leaves behind a legacy as one of the greats in Wolf Pack history. Chris Ault's replacement at head coach will have no more immediate task than replacing Jefferson and rebuilding the Wolf Pack's running back corps.