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Texas WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s ‘fight-for-the-ball-mentality’ is shining through

The high school tailback has emerged as one of the best jump-ball receivers in college football. Fitting.

West Virginia v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Jumpman. Jumpman. Jumpman.

LJ’s up to something.

Texas Longhorns junior wide receiver LIl’Jordan Humphrey is one of two pass catchers on the team with the claim to the title of Jumpman, with his ball skills that reflect his basketball background and came through in a big way for the Longhorns on Saturday.

Those ball skills also reflect his namesake — Michael Jordan, Jumpman himself. When Humphrey’s mother allowed his older brother the chance to name his younger brother, big bro chose Jordan. As a compromise, it became Lil’Jordan.

But as Lil’Jordan has shown this season, his impact on the field has been bigger than his name.

On two occasions last Saturday, sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger came under pressure from zero blitzes by West Virginia, but was able to throw up accurate jump balls to Humphrey that the junior receiver was able to haul in.

Jumpman. Jumpman. Jumpman.

In addition to a touchdown catch, Humphrey tied his career high with nine catches for 143 yards, the third time he’s gone over 100 yards receiving this season.

The former tailback at Southlake Carroll has also run for a touchdown on four carries and thrown for a touchdown on three pass attempts.

After scoring two touchdowns as a sophomore in 2017, Humphrey has emerged as the Swiss Army Knife that head coach Tom Herman declared him to be this season by accounting for seven touchdowns as a junior.

So, what’s changed?

In a word — development.

“He’s got a great coach in Drew Mehringer and Corby Meekins now, too,” Herman said on Monday. “He has really bought into our way of doing things, has continued to improve and enhance his game.”

The buy in hasn’t always been absolute — Humphrey was suspended for a violation of team rules before the Texas Bowl and sat out the first series of the Oklahoma State game due to tardiness.

However, it’s clear now that Humphrey successfully made the transition from a uniquely-talented tailback at Southlake Carroll who gained more than 1,800 yards on the ground as a junior to a refined wide receiver providing difference-making plays.

“This is a guy that, again, played tailback for most of his life, so this position was still fairly new,” Herman said. “I know everybody wants change to happen overnight and improvement to happen overnight, but it takes time.”

Humphrey’s ascendance has been a classic case of the third-year jump so common for college football players. As a freshman, Humphrey was still adjusting to his new position and only caught two passes for 15 yards while appearing in 10 games. The growth continued as a sophomore once Herman and Mehringer arrived, but Humphrey’s 37 catches for 431 yards and one receiving touchdown were merely a glimpse of his potential.

Now that potential is fully on display — Humphrey leads the team with 55 catches for 788 yards and five touchdowns.

And even if there isn’t a ton of separation between Humphrey and fellow junior wide receiver Collin Johnson in terms of catches or touchdowns, a deeper dig into the contributions of both shows that Humphrey has a higher catch rate, more yards per catch, more yards per target, a higher marginal efficiency, and a higher marginal explosiveness than Johnson.

Eleven of Humphrey’s 14 catches on third down have gone for first downs as the junior has become a go-to target for his quarterback.

“LJ has improved steadily ever since we’ve been here,” Herman said. “You’re right, though, there’s some of that when we got here he had. He had that fight-for-the-ball mentality. That’s something that’s difficult to coach and teach. You either kind of have it or you don’t. He certainly has it.”

And yet, having it doesn’t mean that Humphrey should stop working on his craft. It definitely doesn’t mean that he will stop working on his craft.

“He would tell you if he were standing here today that he’s still got work to do,” Herman said. “He believes that. We believe that. He’s playing really, really well for us right now.”

With upside still left untapped and an incredible junior season still in progress, the operative question for Humphrey is whether he will even return for his senior season or instead opt to leave for the NFL.

Jumpman, and all that.