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Tony Jefferson Q&A
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OU defensive back talks about 2012 season
Last football season, bright spots on the Oklahoma defense were not nearly as easy to come by as they had been during the previous 12 seasons of the Bob Stoops era. There were good performances scattered here and there, but overall consistency was lacking far too often during the Sooners’ stretch run that included losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
One player who stood above the fray was Tony Jefferson. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound defensive back proved to be one of the Sooners’ most dependable and productive performers, leading the team in interceptions (4) while ranking third in tackles (74) and fourth in tackles for loss (7.5).
After being recognized as the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010, Jefferson continued to develop into one of the top defenders in the conference as a sophomore. He had interceptions on three consecutive possessions against Ball State, an interception and a sack in the 55-17 win over Texas and a team-high eight tackles in a huge road win at Florida State.
Even when the defense did not play well as a whole, Jefferson could be singled out as a positive force for the Sooners.
Sooner Spectator caught up with the California native this summer and asked him about lessons learned, college pressure and expectations for the 2012 Sooners.
Sooner Spectator: How excited are you about the prospects of the 2012 season?
Tony Jefferson: I’m extremely excited. We have a lot of guys on this team who are putting in the work and effort it takes to be successful — working hard this whole offseason preparing and getting ready for the season. I think we’re all excited for what the future holds for this team.
SS: Looking back at last season and how things unfolded down the stretch — especially with the three losses — what do you guys take from that experience, and is it something that will serve as motivation?
Jefferson: Those things definitely stick with you, but in a good way. We didn't play well in those three games — probably games that we know we should have won. But you learn from those experiences. You pinpoint what went wrong, and you strive to correct the mistakes you made and also make sure you put yourself in a position to come out on top next time.
SS: Brent Venables was a key figure in this OU defense for a number of years, and he was very well liked and respected. Since he left for Clemson and OU brought in Mike Stoops and Tim Kish, how have things changed?
Jefferson: Mike and Brent worked together and coached together for a few years, so they actually kind of have the same type of intensity and demeanor on the field. They both bring a lot of excitement to the defense, so that aspect hasn’t changed much. Really, it’s been a pretty easy transition. Coach Kish is very similar to those guys. Normally, you might take a step or two back in a situation like this, especially having to learn a new scheme, but it’s all gone smoothly so far. They have extremely high expectations like Coach V did, and we know we can trust Coach Stoops and Coach Kish just like we have with the coaching staff in the past.
SS: You have been compared at times to former OU defensive great Roy Williams. How do you feel when you hear things like that?
Jefferson: Anytime you are compared to someone like Roy Williams, who was such a great player here, you have to feel good about it. That’s an honor. Then again, you want to make a name for yourself as a player. You want to develop your own game out there and be the best you can be. Comparisons are nice because it means people recognize some of the talent or skills in you that they saw in Roy Williams. But at the end of the day, you have to be yourself.
SS: What was it like last season to have interceptions on three consecutive possessions against Ball State, and did that create some unrealistic expectations where you were concerned?
Jefferson: It was mind-boggling when it was happening. It almost felt unreal, and that’s probably why I dropped the fourth one on the next possession. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The following week against Texas, I got another (interception), and it suddenly felt like I needed to be picking off passes every single game. It got to the point that when I didn’t have a pick, I felt like I didn’t have a good game. I finally realized that playing the position that I did last season and moving around a lot on defense, those situations are not always going to present themselves. There are so many different ways I can help our defense be successful and help this team win. It’s not always going to be with interceptions, and I realize that.
SS: In today’s college game — especially in the Big 12 — so many teams run pass-oriented, up-tempo offenses. Does that put more pressure on a defensive back, or does it make things more fun?
Jefferson: I love the pressure that comes from competition. Being a DB, you have to have a certain confidence to be back there in those situations. You go to a conference like the SEC or the Pac-12, and it’s a lot different style of football. I like playing the Big 12 because your abilities are tested just about every single play of every game. You know you are going to see something similar at the next level, so you’d better prepare yourself against it while you are here. It definitely requires more focus and maybe even a little bit of attitude to play DB in this league where so many teams like to air it out every game. Personally, I like the challenge.
SS: They say you need to have short-term memory to play defensive back. Is that how you see it?
Jefferson: Absolutely. Teams are going to make plays against your defense. They are going to pick up eight yards here or 12 yards there, and they are even going to hit you for a big gainer every once in a while. You know that. Sometimes it's a mistake by the defense, and sometimes someone makes a great play against you. You have to learn to let that stuff go. That’s just football. So having a selective memory is a must for any good defensive back. You celebrate the good plays and put the bad ones out of your mind. Back at practice is where you think about those and hopefully get them fixed.
SS: Entering your third year at OU, are you comfortable with the transition from California to Oklahoma?
Jefferson: Honestly, the whole first year, I was kind of skeptical. I was always wanting to go back home and didn’t feel that comfortable. But now, this is like my second home. I’m totally relaxed and comfortable with my surroundings, the program, school and everything. It's great. That’s part of the process of going off to college — just learning how to be comfortable outside your comfort zone.
SS: Do you have any pregame routines or superstitions you follow to get yourself ready to play?
Jefferson: I have my choice of music, and I listen to it prior to every game. When we are in our hotel rooms and get the 30-minute warning call to get on the bus, it’s straight prayer from there until we get to the stadium. Once we are at the stadium, it’s locked-in time. I try to get other guys in the locker room pumped up and ready. I’m the guy running around the room trying to spike things up.
SS: Will you set any personal goals for yourself going into this season?
Jefferson: I do. I set a few personal goals. I want to get at least seven or eight interceptions and finish high on the team in tackles. Mostly just play like I am capable of playing. I feel like if I do that, I’ll put myself and our team in a position to succeed. My expectations are high.
SS: How good do you feel this team can be this season?
Jefferson: If everything falls into place like I believe it can, this team can be really, really good. Just looking at the time we have put in together as a team in workouts, in practices, in the film room — you can see the motivation is there to have a great season. I feel like this could be the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here. We have a lot of talent at so many positions, and we’ve got a lot of hungry guys who want to be successful and who are going to do everything they can to make that happen. We all want the same goal.
(Editor's Note: This Q&A appears in the 2012 Football Preview issue of Sooner Spectator... to subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)