After being a great high school player in California and a fantastic player at Oklahoma, free safety Tony Jefferson finds himself under a lot of scrutiny and there is definitely a sense of the anger there.
The type of underlying anger that fuels him in his training and how he approaches the NFL; it focuses him on what he is doing.
He has a lot of confidence and believes he will be proving a lot of doubters wrong.
Peter Smith: You grew up in Chula Vista, CA, and were a heavily recruited high school prospect, so how did you end up at Oklahoma?
Tony Jefferson: I was committed to USC and Pete Carroll had to take off the to the NFL, so I just wanted to go to a stable coaching program and where a place wins and that was Oklahoma.
PS: You played another position in high school.
TJ: Yea, I played running back.
PS: If I’m not mistaken, you think you might actually be a better running back than you are a safety.
TJ: Sometimes, I feel that way.
PS: Talk about the fact you’re leaving Oklahoma with a 5-1 record against Texas and Oklahoma State.
TJ: That feels really good, going against our big rivals like that and just winning big and having the bragging rights.
PS: Your team had a ton of success at Oklahoma, winning an impressive number of games but you lost to Texas A&M, a former conference rival that went to the SEC; how did that feel, that being your last game at Oklahoma?
TJ: Yea, it was tough. We came in the game plan and we were hanging with them at half time, but it was tough to leave on that note.
PS: Break down your game for me.
TJ: I like to play fast, physical, and smart. I was the quarterback of my secondary and that took a lot of preparation and effort to get my teammates to realize that I am serious about what I do and that I am out here to win.
PS: I would argue that the wide open conferences are the toughest proving grounds for safeties because they have to cover a ton of ground, play more man coverage and be the last line of defense and that the Big XII, being the premier conference for that style would produce high quality safeties. What are your thoughts on that?
TJ: We played against a lot of teams who would spread us out and then try to excel at the run game, which would make it even harder on safeties. We had to both the run and the pass, you’re put in a lot of 1-on-1 situations like I was and then you have to tackle guys like Tavon Austin in open space.
It’s kind of tough but that type of stuff does prepare you for the next level, being that the NFL is becoming more of a pass attack offense, spreading people out with the quarterback and stuff like that.
PS: The transition to the NFL will not be easy, but does the fact that the NFL by comparison will actually be smaller in terms of it being more compact make it easier for you in some ways?
TJ: Yea, I feel like it won’t be that hard of a transition for me. I know it’s going to be a transition as far as, not even just on the field, but off the field; becoming an actual adult.
There’s no one there to slap you on the hand or anything. It’s a cut throat type business. You mess up; you’re done. That’s just how it is. I’m just going to be on my P’s and Q’s on and off the field, just trying to be the best player I can be and just try to make things happen.
PS: Talk about the weight you gained from your sophomore to junior year.
TJ: The weight that I gained was pure muscle. I was about 201, 205 at the end of the season my sophomore year. That spring and that summer, I really hit the weights hard. I went and did my body mass test and I had gained a massive amount of muscle. My strength coach, they were surprised at how much I had gained. I was a lot stockier.
PS: How did your role in the defense change from your sophomore to junior season.
TJ: It was a lot simpler. It was more of a safety type defense and it depended on the safeties. We played a big role on the defense.
PS: Your dad was an Olympic boxer and one of the ways you are training is with boxer. Talk about the training and what benefits provide for the game of football.
TJ: I boxed when I was in middle school, when I was in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade.
I stopped boxing since then and I am getting back into it. One thing I can say, there’s two totally different things: There’s being in football shape and there’s being in boxing shape.
Boxing shape excels way more than being in football shape. I am sore right now just coming my second workout.
It’s good though, it translates over to the football field from explosion to speed, endurance; all that type of stuff. I think boxing is really good. I read up on Tom Zbikowski, who is actually a Pro Fighter right now, who is 4-0 and still in the NFL, which is cool. It’s something I’ll probably end up doing.
PS: I was all ready to credit boxing for your feet. How do you have such good feet?
TJ: My feet have always been a strong part of my game; my ball skills and my feet. My coaches have always told I have really good feet. I think a lot of that does come from boxing.
Every time you punch, you’re punching in a rhythm as far as when you get your balance step. All of your explosion is going to come from there. You’re constantly moving your feet when you box. Once you’re dead-footed, you’re dead. I credit boxing for improving my feet, but my footwork has always been good.
PS: Do you feel like you can play man coverage?
TJ: I feel like I’m pretty good in man. A lot of people are, I mean the 4.75 at the Combine is hurting me right now, but I don’t run a 4.7. I had hurt my hamstring prior to the Combine. I can run with any receiver. I was injured at the time.
My man coverage, 1-on-1, I feel like it is where it needs to be. My coaches felt comfortable putting me in 1-on-1 situations during the year. I played man to man freshman and sophomore year when I was lined up at nickel back; that’s all we did was man and blitz and different stuff like that.
PS: It didn’t seem like anyone threw at you in man coverage on tape.
TJ: Especially sophomore year, I think I had four balls caught on me and I think only one over 10 yards. I pretty much locked it down, but a lot of people don’t see that. My coaches knew that and the other teams knew that too.
PS: How would you rate yourself as a run defender?
TJ: I think that is one of my strong points as well, but that comes with IQ and just knowing where the ball is going to go. I had some instances and times with tackling through those years, but my run/pass reads were good. I think I’ll be even better when I get a chance to sit down with coaches, just focus on my run fits.
PS: There was a report on Walter Football suggesting you had questionable work ethic and that was the message coaches were passing on to teams. Any further comment on this situation or new developments?
TJ: My coaches called me within two days of that report coming out and told me straight up, they never said anything like that; they would never say anything like that first and foremost because it’s not true.
I talk to my strength coach and he was laughing hard. My sophomore year, I was in second place, runner up for lifter of the year; got beat out by a lineman. I take all the reps in practice and never complained about it.
There were practices during game weeks where I would practice through everything and it wouldn’t come out. That (report) is for whoever wants to read that, but my coaches clarified it, made everything known. I practice hard, I work hard in the weight room. If anyone knows who Bob Stoops is, whether you are a Heisman Trophy winner, if you’re not working hard, he will not let you play.
PS: What is your relationship now with the coaching staff and the University of Oklahoma in general?
TJ: Good. I was just in Oklahoma a week ago; just got back actually. We’re like buddies now.
Me and Mike (Stoops) play around and joke and stuff; I was in his office. I’d go to their practices and just watch and talk to the coaches.
They’ve got a great coaching staff. They got some new coaches up there that I talked to; like I said, I’ve never, ever had a problem with my coaches or anything like that.
I am proud that I got to be a part of that program.
PS: What do you take away from your head coach Bob Stoops?
TJ: I think the most important thing that he’s taught us and instilled in us is discipline. I think that’s going to help each and every person that has been under him and been coached by him.
Coach Bob didn’t play any games, regardless of who you are or what you’ve done. He made sure that you, as a person, know that you’re not above this whole program and anything you do, you represent the program.
The coaches, everything, the player, your teammates; I think he made that very clear. If you’re a starter, he can kick you out. We lost four starters this past year before the year even started. I instilled in us, always work hard and think about everyone else besides yourself; unselfishness.
PS: Tell me about another coach that has helped you develop in your career.
TJ: My high school head coach, Coach McFadden, was the exact same way as Coach Stoops. He didn’t ever let me try and get a big head; he kept me level headed.
There were times in the games when I wanted more carries or I wanted to play another position, knowing I could get more yards, but he wanted to keep me level headed. We won our first state championship my senior year; made me stay on top of my school.
PS: Is that familiarity part of why you went to Oklahoma when things did not work out at USC?
TJ: Right. Coach McFadden told me you need to go somewhere the coaching staff is strong, has a good will, and is in it for the players and I felt like there was no other place in the country that was doing that like Oklahoma
PS: More meaningful achievement for you: All First Team Big XII or All Academic Big XII?
TJ: All Academic, I think that shows more than the football side of it; knowing that you’re not just out there playing football. There are other things that you have to work on.
Once you’re in the NFL, there’s no more school, so if you can show you’re a student in the classroom, you can be a student of the game as well. I think if the scouts were to see the student part of your game, being at that school, you can be a student of the game and that does nothing but help you out.
PS: When are you expected to graduate with a degree in multidisciplinary studies?
TJ: I have a semester and a class left.
PS: So you will have graduated in three and half years?
TJ: I tried to work hard in everything I did when I was at the University of Oklahoma. Have my fun, but at the same time, I was getting work done.
Never had a bad report from a teacher; there’s probably still an assignment in the locker room from one my teachers, letting Coach Stoops know that I was one of the best football students she’s had in a while.
PS: Does your dedication to academics gives you an advantage on the football field?
TJ: I think the football field is always going to be football, but there are guys who really don’t know schemes or how to translate stuff.
All in all, it really does transfer over. If you think about, football is math with the angles. That’s what football is all about, especially on defense. Good angles, taking good angles.
PS: Do you have a plan for life after football?
TJ: With my major, I want to go into communications and be a broadcaster. I love being in front of the camera, love talking on the radio, so I have the voice and the face to do so and the smile.
PS: What are we going to be saying about Tony Jefferson in nine months?
TJ: Hopefully, we’ll be saying Tony Jefferson is a great football player and is taking his team to the Super Bowl.
It remains to be seen what kind of player Tony Jefferson will become in the NFL, but I would hate to be the guy who tries to get in his way of making it. Good luck to him as he chases after his dream in the NFL.