FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt junior KJ Jefferson is once again preparing for a bowl game without all the targets he had during the regular season.

Last year, star wide receiver Treylon Burks opted out of the Outback Bowl to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. This year, Jefferson will be missing Jadon Haselwood, Ketron Jackson and tight end Trey Knox for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Haselwood opted out to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft while Jackson and Knox entered the transfer portal.

But, Jefferson earned MVP honors at the Outback Bowl as he led the Hogs to a 24-10 win over Penn State. Jefferson hopes to do the same against Kansas this bowl game. In addition, Jefferson has announced he will return for the 2023 season.

“Basically I knew I always could play here, and I just felt like this was home for me and I didn’t want to leave,” Jefferson said. “I just felt like I had built a bond with each and everybody in the locker room — coaches, the whole staff — so I didn’t want to just give that up. So I just wanted to come back and finish out the right way and just go out there with a bang. Start the season off right for the bowl game, come back and just grind. I mean, I ain’t have a healthy season like I wanted to. I ain’t have the season that I wanted, so I always knew I wanted to come back, and I just want to finish in an Arkansas uniform.”

When Jefferson announced he was returning, many on social media were elated and sent praise to him. Jefferson talked about the support from the fans.

“I did,” Jefferson said. “I saw the just the fans. But I mean, I’m getting tagged in different things each and every day. So, I mean I love it, I enjoy it, I embrace it. But also it just goes to show the impact that I do have as a Razorback for this whole state of Arkansas.

“And things that I’ve done off the field and on the field just show that I’m heading in the right direction. I mean, I’m on the right path. I’m humble and just to see the impact that I have from older up to and it goes to kids. I mean, just being able to just model myself in the right way, and keep doing what I’m doing and keep heading in the right direction.”

Jefferson missed two games with injuries, Mississippi State and LSU. In 10 games, Jefferson has completed 185 of 271 passes for 2,361 yards, 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also has rushed 144 times for 510 yards and seven touchdowns. Jefferson was asked if it has been difficult preparing for a game when three of the top four receivers on the team are gone?

“I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult,” Jefferson said. “It’s definitely challenging, just trying to get in, build time with those young guys and making sure they’re understanding what I’m looking at as far as a defensive standpoint. The time of their routes, when to sit in windows, when not to sit in windows.

“So, I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, I would say it’s more definitely challenging just being able to get the young guys, get more reps than usual, and being out there with me, being out there with the first team and building their confidence up so they know they can go out there and be the best they can be. Just being able to just get that timing down…just staying after practice throwing, talking over different routes and stuff, breaking it down to ‘em how I’m viewing it from my perspective. I would say it’s more definitely challenging, but not difficult.”

Jefferson talked about some wide receivers other than Matt Landers who have stepped up so far during bowl practices. Landers, who caught 44 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns in his lone season at Arkansas, is expected to be a go-to receiver for Jefferson against the Jayhawks.

“Yeah, Bryce Stephens,” Jefferson said. “He’s played a lot of ball. Going out there, Bryce’s confidence level has risen through the roof on the offensive side of the ball, just getting him snaps early in the season. So, I feel really good about him.

“Also, Jaedon Wilson has come along, as well. Just being able to learn from Matt and those guys that were above him and Ketron and all those guys. Just being able to be in that room, learning. He’s waited for his opportunity, and now it’s here, and he’s taking advantage of it. He’s coming out each and every day to work. He’s asking questions more. He’s really involved in the offense and eager to learn and ready to go out there and be hungry and take advantage of his opportunity.”

Arkansas and Kansas will kickoff at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 28 and the game televised on ESPN.