This wasn't Connor Jessop's first start for the Shepherd Rams. He had started before, even earning Mountain East Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors last season.
But Saturday saw Jessop's first start as The Starting Quarterback for the Shepherd Rams. He had big shoes to fill, replacing Jeff Ziemba, who finished fifth in DII football last year with 3,627 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
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Jessop's opening day matchup was part of ESPN's DII football showcase, too, streamed live across the nation on ESPN3. The game was against Notre Dame College, the team that most thought had the best chance to challenge for the MEC championship.
No pressure, kid.
“We knew that we had some guys that came in — transfers and returners — that had some talent," Jessop said after Shepherd's 54-49 Week 1 victory. "The first game is always tough not knowing how a defense is going to play you or line up. Our offensive line did a great job early on and throughout the entire game. We found some holes in the defense that we thought we could exploit, and the receivers did a great job of breaking tackles and finding lines. I just tried to get the ball into their hands the best I could, and they did the rest.”
The best he could? Jessop threw for 476 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 50 yards and two more touchdowns.
Connor Jessop matches his own MEC record for TDs responsible for with 7 (5 passing, 2 rushing) today. #MECFB— Mountain East Conf. (@TheMountainEast) September 2, 2017
Jessop exploded in the second half, going blow for blow with NDC, as the two teams scored 68 second-half points in a thrilling back-and-forth battle.
"That first game of the season, you’ll always have a few butterflies,"Jessop said. "I kind of got a good idea of how they would continue to play us at halftime. They came out and played a little soft on the outside, and there were some windows that we thought we could take advantage of. Obviously, once you get your feet wet it makes it a lot easier. We just got in a groove in the second half, and rode that thing out.”
So, just who is Connor Jessop? He's more than the starting quarterback who put up video-game like numbers. He's the guy who can't take the field until he has had his Sour Patch Kids watermelon candy.
The inside scoop:
Favorite football or sports movie: I’ll give you one of each. Football, I have to go with Remember the Titans because I’m a Virginia kid. Sports movie, I probably go Field of Dreams.
What’s in your headphones as you prepare for game day? Honestly, I just go straight to shuffle. I got music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I can listen to it all as long as it's a song I can sing along to.
Pregame meal: I like to get a bag of candy, that’s really the only consistent thing. Sour Patch watermelon, that’s my go-to.
Favorite football team: I’m a Cowboys fan.
Favorite football player: My favorite player ever is Peyton Manning. I was a big [Tony] Romo fan, even though he was so fragile.
Manning or Tom Brady? Oh, I’m Manning all the way. I probably have this argument once a week with different people. Brady’s had the best coach in NFL history, and always had a great defense. The stat I always tell people is that Manning took four different coaches to the Super Bowl.
Are you addicted to Game of Thrones? I am, but I’m only on Season 6. I binge-watched it over the past month and I’m just getting caught up.
(SPOILER ALERT BELOW)
Favorite character: Jon Snow just died and came back to life, so I have to like him. I also like Tyrion, he seems like a witty guy.
Have you ever seen A Few Good Men? Of course, Colonel Jessup. I’m a big fan of older movies.
Favorite cartoon: I was a big Hey Arnold! fan. Wasn’t much into many cartoons. I’ve watched SpongeBob like everybody else, but Hey Arnold! was definitely my go-to.