Football Preview 2017: Calm, cool, collected Jessop ready to lead Rams

Shepherd backup QB Connor Jessop (8) stiff arms Grand Valley State's Garrett Pougnet (25) as he scrambles for yards during the fourth quarter. Ron Agnir/Journal

Connor Jessop is as calm as they come.

He’s laid back and cooler than California.

He’s not fiery, as fellow redheads are stereotyped to be. Plus, he’s been extremely patient as the backup quarterback at Shepherd the past two seasons, which amazes Shepherd coach Monte Cater.

“For someone to be that patient, it’s awesome to see,” Cater said.

Jessop just does whatever needs to be done.

It’s no wonder he’s an aficionado of coffee. He loves it and needs it, given his demeanor, for a kickstart. A quick call into action works the same as the java. It’s a jolt.

Jessop made significant plays in a pair of playoff games the past two seasons when four-year starter at quarterback and career-record-holder for passing,  Jeff Ziemba, got hurt and Jessop needed to play.

The first time came in the 2015 national semifinals as Shepherd hosted Grand Valley State.

Jessop entered the action early in the first series when Ziemba suffered a shoulder injury. The backup finished the drive that resulted in a touchdown and led the Shepherd to victory and a spot in the school’s first national championship game.

“I think the whole team did a good job of coming together; we really stepped up,” Jessop said. “Billy (Brown) had some big catches, C.J. (Davis) a pick-six, (Adam) Coles two interceptions.

“As a team, we came together.”

A year later in a Super Region 1 victory over California (Pennsylvania), Ziemba took a crushing blow to his helmet and was left dazed. Jessop dazzled again, coming in for one play, a fourth-and-1 situation, and pushed over for a touchdown that gave Shepherd a late, two-score lead in a victory.

“That’s the 1-yard line,” Jessop said. “I think I got pushed more than anything. The offensive line gets the credit.”

It’s a reflection of his carefree approach.

“I’ve always been a team-first guy,” Jessop said. “It goes back to Little League. Dad sat me on the bench ‘If you’re not in it for the team, don’t be in it at all.'”

He learned from that.

“I’d rather be a backup on a 13-1 team than a starter on a 2-8 team,” he said.

Jessop also played in place of Ziemba during the regular season a season ago, and all he did was pass for a team-record 480 yards and six touchdowns in a 70-24 win over West Virginia State.

“I had time to prepare,” Jessop said. “I don’t think I got touched all game.”

That would include touchdown runs of 49 and 1 yards by Jessop.

He said it was simply a case of the offense running in high-gear, and he just did what was required.

Some of the other things he did came in end-of-game situations with Shepherd well in command.

For his career at Shepherd, the transfer from Virginia Tech has played in 16 games, completing 54 of 74 passes for 1,005 yards.

Now he’s Shepherd’s starter. It’s his team to run as the Rams pursue a third Mountain East Conference title in a row.

“I’m excited,” Jessop said. “I learned a lot from Jeff in two years backing him up. He was a great quarterback. I’m looking forward to it.

“I’m looking forward to it, getting to be the quarterback should be huge.”

He took up yoga in the offseason, which proved helpful when all he could do during spring football was observe. An NCAA rule limiting the number of semesters a player can play football left him unavailable.

“It was tough not to participate, but it gave other guys a chance,” Jessop said.

Guys who could be the next Jessop, coming to the rescue in times of need.

He also worked on trying to keep his weight in place. The 6-foot-4 quarterback went anywhere from 218 pounds to 200 last season.

“I was a string bean,” Jessop said.

The quarterback knows he won’t have the same offensive performers around him this season.

“We got some holes to fill, we know that,” Jessop said. “Everybody’s got to step up.”

Including Jessop, who is a more of a threat to run than was Ziemba, adding a dimension to Shepherd’s offense.

Jessop said he got picked on as a youngster for his red hair and collected an assortment of nicknames, some of which were not very flattering – ‘Anything but Connor,’ he said.

“It motivated me to get better for sports,” Jessop said.