COLUMBIA – It took a season for Alshon Jeffery to find his way in the NFL.
But, during his second season, the former University of South Carolina star put up numbers that ranked him among the best wide receivers in the league.
Questions about his speed and his ability to get open pushed him into the second round of the 2012 draft. Not only has he shown that getting open is not a problem but even when covered he made circus catches that earned replays on ESPN's "SportsCenter" virtually every week.
"He's the best in the league at tracking the football deep," his friend, Chicago Bears teammate and fellow wide receiver Brandon Marshall said during the season. "He made one catch in the end zone that was so great I told him a high-five wouldn't do. I had to have a hug."
Jeffery was in Columbia this past weekend to participate in USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley's celebrity softball game, benefitting her charity Innersole.org.
"It's always great coming back home, especially to support Coach Staley and her staff," Jeffery said. "I wanted to have a good time playing softball."
Jeffery proved to be one of the most popular "celebrities" participating as he managed only a step or two before being stopped for photo and autograph requests.
"It is always good to come home and see my family. It gives me more drive for the season," Jeffery said. "Everyone is letting me know that the people back home are always watching me and I have to keep getting better."
Jeffery hopes to improve on his 2013 performance when he caught 89 passes for 1,421 yards with seven touchdowns. That was enough for many NFL analysts to declare Jeffery and Marshall the best wide receiver duo in the NFL.
"I just want to keep improving," said Jeffery, who trains with Marshall in the offseason. "We hope to make the playoffs this season."
He has kept in close contact with his fellow Gamecocks in the NFL and is confident one of the newest arrivals, Jadeveon Clowney, will be a hit with the Houston Texans.
"He knows what he has to do," Jeffery said during a reunion of Gamecocks pro players during the summer. "He's going to be a great player. He's going to dominate the league and be a Hall of Famer."
Jeffery will be keep an eye on the Gamecocks as well, as he hopes the program is ready to take the next step in its resurrection.
"I'm always looking for them to do great things," said Jeffery. "Now they've got to win the SEC and then the (National) championship.
"All they have to do is have fun and take one game at a time."