July 2, 2019

One-on-One with Jackson Jeffcoat

They are some of Jackson Jeffcoat’s earliest memories and are as vivid and familiar as if they unfolded just yesterday.

Jeffocat’s father, Jim, played defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys from 1983-94 and then coached with them from 1998-2004, so football has dominated his life for as long as he can remember. And as Jackson navigates through his own career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – he’s now into his third season – there are many similarities that cross over from the National Football League to the Canadian Football League, from life in the United States to his experiences north of the 49th parallel.

Jeffcoat met with this week to chat about all this and more:

What is your fondest memory of being around your dad when he was with the Cowboys?

I remember the games, the home games. And after the games he’d pick us up and kiss us on the cheek – I can still remember his prickly beard – and he’d take me and my brother Jaren into the locker room to talk to some of the players. When were younger, and so we’d just stay close to him like little kids do and be hugging onto his leg.

So besides your dad, who were your favourite Cowboys?

I liked messing with Michael Irvin. My dad would always send me over to talk mess to him. Ken Norton – our family was good friends with the Nortons. Russell Maryland… mostly the defensive guys because I grew up with a lot of their kids as well.

As you get further away from that now, are you able to recognize how cool that whole experience was? I mean, that’s different than what most kids’ experience.

It wasn’t usual. I know it was a cool gig and that I was lucky enough to have a father in the NFL. Now I look around and I see Jermarcus Hardrick’s kids around here. I see (Justin) Medlock and (Mike) Miller and other guys with their kids out here and it makes me realize how cool my experience was. Not many kids get to come out here after practice and play on the actual field with their dads. I got to do that.

I used to be on the field and take notes, tally plays for him, when he was coaching. I used to pull the headset cord – before the cordless headsets – with him on the sidelines so he didn’t trip. My brother and I took turns with that.

How often do you still speak with your dad?

We talk weekly. We don’t always talk football stuff. He said, ‘I didn’t have somebody to always talk football with me, but I think the most important thing is for you to learn on your own. That’s what I did. But let’s talk life, let’s talk about things going on outside of football.’ I appreciate it because football doesn’t last that long and I’ve got a lot of life to live after this.

That’s the most important thing to him.

That leads me to this: most athletes are well-trained to live in the moment, but have you thought about life after football?

I have thought of a couple of things. I am a guy who likes to give back and help others. I’ve worked in real estate with a commercial real estate company in the offseason. I talked to my athletic director at the University of Texas and what it takes to become an athletic director… what degrees I might need, what kind of work experience I would need.

I’ve really tried to find something that is my niche. I want to go back to get my sports management Master’s degree or a finance degree.

I look at your credentials – your University of Texas bio and your Wiki page – and it’s line after line of accomplishments and awards. And yet, you weren’t drafted. You had NFL looks with Seattle, Washington, Cleveland and Cincinnati… was there a bitterness about that working not out and did you carry that with you for a while?

At first, I did. At first I wondered and said, ‘Why am I the one that had to go through this?’ And then I was reminded that a lot of people don’t get the opportunities I did. It doesn’t matter about the accolades… I believe everything happens for a reason.

So, for me to go through what I did I believe it made me stronger as a player and a person. I learned all you can control is what you can control. Don’t worry about the outside stuff that I couldn’t control. All I can control is my effort and my play and how I approach a game and a practice. That made things a lot easier for me.

Willie Jefferson is standing over there… there’s a lot of CFL types who think you guys have the game to be in the NFL. You had that look with Cincinnati last December… does it take a while to get that out of your system?

It did. But this is the most important league for me right now. I had to realize the NFL is just a totally different league. This league is just as competitive and there are some great players up here. There are guys in this league who could play in the NFL.

When you first came here you talked about working with Master Joe Kim, a martial arts specialist. Can you tell the story behind that again and how it helped?

This goes back… when I was younger my dad always did taekwondo. We always did it as kids. Martial arts helps with a lot of things, with growing up, with becoming a man because of the disciplines inside of the martial arts.

As I got older I thought I needed to do more of that and Master Kim was working with my dad in Dallas and then came to the Redskins when I was there and said, ‘Hey, I remember when you were a little guy.’  So I started working with him again and he took a lot of thinking out of my pass rushing and how to use my hands better. The best pass rushers are always working on their craft day in, day out. That’s the mindset I’ve taken.

What does Jackson Jeffcoat like to do if he’s not playing or thinking about football?

I watch a lot of videos about what’s going on in the world. I play a bit of PS4. I hang out, play games, and I like to go out with the guys together to a restaurant to catch a game.

Craig (Roh) and I will get guys together to play Super Smash Bros on Nintendo Switch. It’s fun when we get together. This D-line group is a fun group. Some of the DBs like to play, too, guys like Chandler Fenner and Brandon Alexander. We like to get together.

I’m also a bit of an adventurer, so I like to see different things. My first year here I got up to Grand Beach and that was pretty cool. I want to get up to Birds Hill Provincial Park… I know it’s close and I want to get up there and do some hiking. I also want to go fishing. I’ve been told I need to get to Kenora.

Let’s rewind to when you first got to Winnipeg. What were your first impressions of Winnipeg and how, if at all, has it changed during your time here?

When I got here the first thing that hit me was ‘Man, you are in a different country now.’ I didn’t know I had an international phone plan, for example, and was using WiFi. It was like I was in Europe or in Japan.

But what I noticed right away was how close the guys on the team were. That’s something that made me excited about this place.

And now that I’ve been here for a bit, this feels like home. I feel comfortable here. I love it here. The fans are great, the coaches are great. I love Coach O’Shea, I love Coach Young, Coach Hall… smart football guys. They love football and you can tell in the meetings. They want to get better and improve and that trickles down to the players. We all love this game, want to get better, too, and we work off their enthusiasm.

I suppose if you didn’t have that attitude, if you didn’t want to be here, it would show in absolutely everything you do. And that could make life miserable, right?

For sure. But I do want to be here and that’s why I came back. There’s something special about being wanted. That feeling I had after not being drafted… my mindset was ‘F every team.’ Sorry for my language, but that was my attitude. No one drafted me, so no one wanted me, so I’m going to go off on everybody.

It’s good that I was wanted here. That’s an even stronger emotion, knowing that you’re wanted. It’s like that with your family… if your family wants you, you’re going to fight for your family. A guy like me, I’m very protective of my family. If somebody messes with my family I’m stepping in.

That’s how it is here: if somebody messes with my Winnipeg family, I’m stepping in and I’m ready to scrap if I need to.