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By Kerry Eggers/Portland Tribune/Oregon State running back says he's worked harder going into this season

PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jermar Jefferson of Oregon State scores against Washington State during a 2018 season in which he earned Freshman All-American and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.CORVALLIS — The youngster whose Twitter handle is "@Munchie1_" is hungry for a superlative sophomore season.

Jermar Jefferson aspires to be better in every way, and he hopes that translates into an improved record for Oregon State.

The 5-10, 210-pound running back from Harbor City, California was a concensus Freshman All-American and the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last year, rushing for a school freshman record of 1,380 yards (a 5.8 average) and 12 touchdowns.

Jefferson hopes the numbers will increase this season.

"Hopefully, I'll do better — at least 1,500 (yards) and 16 touchdowns," he said. "That would be a solid season."

The softspoken Jefferson is more concerned, however, with helping the Beavers achieve success as a team.

"I've worked a lot on pass protection during the off-season," said Jefferson, who is on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's premier running back. "I want to be a better blocker this year."

Jefferson is setting his team goals high.

"I'm shooting for a Pac-12 championship," he said. "Or at least a positive season, and a bowl game."

That would be significantly better than Oregon State's 2-10 campaign of a year ago. And to be fair, Jefferson's biggest individual goal has nothing to do with statistics.

"I want to step up and become more of a leader on the team," he said. "We're going to be better, but it's going to take all of us working together."

Jefferson averaged just under 20 carries per game last season, some of it with Artavis Pierce — who began the season as the starter — sidelined by injury. With a healthy Pierce, now a senior, along with sophomores B.J. Baylor and Calvin Tyler in the running back stable, Jefferson's work load may decrease.

"We have a lot of great running backs," Jefferson said. "I feel like I'm not going to get as many carries as I did last year. But that will help keep my body healthy through the season.

"Last year, a couple of (running backs) got hurt and I had to go pretty much the whole game. Halfway through the season, I was real sore. My body was beat up. We had no one else to put in. This year, that won't be the case."

Jefferson said 15 to 17 carries a game would be ideal for him.

"That would be a solid," he said.

He also would like to be more of a factor as a receiver. Last year, he caught 25 passes for 147 yards.

"I can catch more screen passes in the slot," he said. "I think I can produce in the passing game."

Jefferson exploded onto the scene as a relative unknown last season. He began training camp No. 3 on the depth chart at running back.

But Tyler was lost before the season with an ACL injury, and Pierce — who opened the season with 168 yards rushing against Ohio State, including TD gallops of 80 and 78 yards — missed a month after injuring an elbow in the second game against Southern Utah. Jefferson came in and picked up 238 yards and four TDs against the Thunderbirds. Three weeks later, he carried for 254 yards against Arizona State, the second-best mark in school history.

"I feel I have more to prove this season," he said. "There will be a lot of eyes on me. But I'll be doing a couple of things different this year to do better than what I did last year."

Jefferson said he is doing more stretching and spending more time focusing on his body in the training room than he did as a freshman.

"Last year, I really put in only two months of hard work before the season," he said. "This time, I feel like I have a whole year under my belt. I've been doing extra lifts, extra ab work. I'm pushing myself to the limit to be the best I can be."

Jefferson has cut about five pounds from last season.

"I was 10 to 12 percent body fat last year," he said. "Now I'm like eight percent. But I'm stronger. My squat has increased by about 30 pounds, and my bench (press) has increased, too. I feel like I'm more explosive now, able to hit the holes faster."

Oregon State's offensive line lost three of its top six players from a year ago — center Sumner Houston and guards Yanni Demogerontas and Kammy Delp. But Jefferson said he likes what he sees from the new O-line.

"The O-line is going to be better," he said, "and we'll work better together. We're stressing communication between the running backs and the O-line. We know their roles better, and they know ours.

"I feel we can be one of the best offenses in the country with the guys we have."

Jefferson is optimistic as well about a defense that is more experienced and has added new pieces.

"Overall, they're better, and the D-line is way better," he said. "The run defense got a lot better. In (last Saturday's) scrimmage, they got a couple of stops and sacks. Their energy is up. They're going to have a great year."

The Friday, Aug. 30 season opener against Oklahoma State at Reser Stadium is looming. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

"I can't wait," Jefferson said. "It came up fast. But I'm ready."

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