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Few play the game with more passion and joy than OU’s Tony Jefferson
Once upon a time, Tony Jefferson hated football. Hated it.
“I started playing when I was four,” said Jefferson. “I can just slightly remember going to practice and crying every single time.”
How things change.
Jefferson’s love of the game now shows up every time he steps on the field, every time he chases down a quarterback or sends a receiver to the infirmary, every time he makes a desperation shoestring tackle or intercepts a pass.
These days, it is crystal clear that Jefferson plays with a rare passion and joy.
Once a kid who didn’t even want to play football, Oklahoma’s sophomore safety/linebacker from Chula Vista, Calif., has become the right player at the right time playing the right position for the right team.
“He’s just a playmaker,” said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “You love to see him out there.”
Still, it took a while.
“When I was little, I always wanted to play a different sport rather than football,” said Jefferson. “I was sort of thrown in the fire by my dad. He made me play football. I grew into liking football after a little bit, but I definitely wasn’t interested in football at first.”
Jefferson is a mature and instinctive player for the OU defense. If Venables needs him to play deep safety, he immediately becomes the Sooners’ best deep safety, ranging around in coverage after fast receivers, knocking them down and disrupting their game. If Venables needs him up near the line of scrimmage, the 5-foot-10, 199-pound Jefferson morphs into an outside linebacker who can cover a 6-5, 250-pound tight end or keep up with diminutive slot receivers or blitz through blockers to take down opposing ballcarriers in the backfield.
“He’s a guy that makes a ton of plays,” said OU head coach Bob Stoops.
Growing up in sunny Southern California, Jefferson had a lot of options as a youngster.
“I went to a school where, my friends and stuff, they weren’t playing football,” said Jefferson. “They were either doing baseball or soccer, and soccer at that time was during the same time as football. So all my friends were playing soccer. I felt like I was just the only one playing football.”
In junior high, Jefferson wanted out of football again. This time, he had his mind made up — football was out, boxing was in.
Jefferson’s father, Tony, was a promising young boxer in the early 1990s. The elder Jefferson said he was close to being on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team with Oscar de la Hoya, Shane Mosley and Larry Donald. (Donald largely dominated the super heavyweight amateur ranks, and Tony Jefferson instead turned to the pulpit; he now is an assistant pastor at a church in San Diego.)
“At one point, he did want to stop playing football for a while and wanted to start concentrating on boxing,” the elder Jefferson said of his son. “But I knew that boxing required a lot more time, and I knew what his gift was. I knew it was mainly more in football than in boxing. But I wanted him to make that decision. So as life went on, he got interested in boxing, but after a while, I talked to him about where his gifts lie, and (how) he had a much better chance at football.”
(Editor's note: Read the rest of this story featured in the Nov. 15 issue of Sooner Spectator magazine - to subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877 or go soonerspectator.com)