Former teammates reunite in Atlanta

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Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) makes a catch as the Florida Gators take on the Idaho Vandals Saturday, November 16, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. This is the Gators last home game of the season [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

ATLANTA — At the Wednesday night Peach Bowl function, two former teammates were on different floors at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Shea Patterson, on the second floor, kept texting Van Jefferson on the first floor, “giving him crap and then watching him laugh and look around to see where I was.”

They are both here in a surreal coincidence, two players by way of Oxford, Miss., playing in a bowl game against each other in part because they couldn’t play in one where they started their college careers.

Patterson, the Michigan quarterback, will be playing in his first bowl game. Jefferson, the Florida wide receiver, went to the last bowl game Ole Miss was allowed to play in but watched from the sidelines.

On Saturday, they will be two of the key offensive players in the Peach Bowl.

“When they announced that we were playing in the bowl game, he called me and was like ‘Man, isn’t this crazy we’re playing in a bowl game together?’ ” Jefferson said.

Well, not together.

But they almost were again.

When the NCAA handed down the final penalties to Ole Miss, seniors were allowed to transfer without sitting out a season. Patterson, a junior, and his family enlisted Arkansas-based attorney Tom Mars to appeal to play right away on the grounds that he was misled by Ole Miss.

When he won his case, it opened the door for Jefferson and other underclassmen from Ole Miss to be eligible this season.

By then, Jefferson was at Florida.

“Our original plan was (Houston safety) Deontay Anderson and Van Jefferson and myself to possibly all come to Michigan,” Patterson said. “And I’m not sure what happened.”

Well, Dan Mullen happened.

First, however, Jefferson visited Michigan.

“It was snowing and it was cold, man, it was cold,” Jefferson said. “But I grew up in Michigan for a little bit so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But I wanted to go somewhere warmer.”

OK, well that happened, too. But there was more to Florida than simply the climate. Jefferson knew all about Mullen from playing against him.

Patterson kept pushing Jefferson to join him at Michigan. They had been friends since Patterson took his first visit to Mississippi.

“He’s one of those guys where it’s easy to talk to and he’s a real, real funny guy,” Patterson said. “We’re still tight. He’s consistent day in and day out. He’s one of the best route runners if not the best.”

In the end, Jefferson saw an opportunity at Florida that was too good to pass up.

“(Patterson) 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 a part of that.’

“So he was still trying to persuade me. We were both 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.”

Things worked out well for both of them in 2018. Patterson guided Michigan to 10 wins.

“He’s made their offense really efficient,” said Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “He’s going to be a challenge for our guys.”

Jefferson was the leading receiver and tied for the touchdown lead on a team that won nine games.

And, of course, the collision course was inevitable.

“Dan Mullen and Van, it’s fun,” Patterson said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The two friends may be foes Saturday, but they have been rooting for each other all season.

The sturdiest of bonds don’t get broken by geography.

“We’re pretty tight,” Jefferson said. “We follow each other. I think more than anything, we were just excited to link back up with each other.”

It’s not the link they had at Ole Miss. It’s not the link Patterson was pushing for at Michigan.

But it’s a pretty surreal way to finish out this season.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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