November 9, 2017

In My Words | Jackson Jeffcoat

Jackson Jeffcoat (94) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

I can’t wait for Sunday.

It’s for days like this, for home playoff games, that we all play the game.

My dad always said – still says – ‘Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games’ and that’s what I want to do, that’s what our D-line wants to do, against Edmonton on Sunday.

We want to help lead this team up front, especially against a guy as formidable as Mike Reilly.

It’s been an awesome year for me and I can honestly say I’ve found my love for the game again. Looking back, the man I should be thanking for telling me about the Canadian Football League is Master Joe Kim. He was my hands-specialist coach in Cleveland and Washington, and he said after my release from the Browns that if another NFL team didn’t pick me up, I needed to go play somewhere and get some film and keep playing.

And he told me I should check out the Canadian Football League. He said a lot of people might think coming here was a step down, but that it wasn’t.

That was my first reaction, to be honest. It was ‘No, I don’t want to play up there. Why would I want to play up there?’ But the more I heard about it, the more I thought it could be a good situation for me.

I talked to my agent and he said, ‘We’ve got to figure out who has your rights.’ I didn’t know anything about that. He told me Winnipeg had my rights.

I hadn’t heard anything about Winnipeg before, even though it’s straight north from where I grew up in Dallas.

After I signed, I started doing my research and watching as many games as I could. I printed out a sheet of all the coaches on the staff with their pictures because I wanted to make sure when I got up here that I knew everybody. Coach O’Shea, Coach Howard, Coach Hall… everybody. I wanted to be proactive. I wanted everyone to know how much I wanted to make the team.

I was the only D-lineman they brought in when I came up here in the spring for mini-camp. They worked me out hard. I was here for two days. I got to meet Coach Howard and watch film with him. It kind of felt like a combine. I was doing bag work, get-off drills, sprints, shuffles, back pedals. I’d do all that and then I’d go in the locker room for an hour and then come out again. I was like, ‘Man, I’m about to be playing football again.’

When I got here for training camp I was so excited to be playing again, but I wasn’t sure how it was going to be. It was tough being in another country… I didn’t have a car or anything, so it was football, sleep, football, sleep. I was sharing a room with Cory Johnson, AKA ‘Poop’, in camp. He’s a character. We hung out a good amount. He ended up getting a car so we’d go places, wherever he wanted to go. I’d be like, ‘Hey, can I roll with you?’ He kept things light for me.

I’m from Dallas. It’s bigger than Winnipeg and even though Texas is super friendly, I think Winnipeg is even friendlier. At first, I didn’t know if people were trying to get one over on me and I was hesitant. And then I realized they were genuine. It was a breath a fresh air for me.

Near the end of camp, finding out whether you made the team or not was pretty nerve-wracking. They’d come to the dorm and knock on your door. If they knocked on your door, you knew somebody in your room was getting cut. Some of the older guys told me, ‘they’ll cut guys by this time and if not, come to the stadium by this time.’ I was in the room trying to sleep… nervous… I heard a knock, but it turns out it was another room down the hall.

Me and C.J. were joking, ‘Man, if they come to this door, they’re probably going to have to cut both of us because we were a package deal.’

I started to really feel comfortable about the fourth or fifth game of the season. It was coming to me a lot faster than in the NFL. I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can make this happen. I could have a career up here.’

It’s been a blessing to be here. It’s been a long season and there have been times when I haven’t felt the best, but I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve been far from my family, but I’ve really enjoyed it because it’s like I’ve found a new family here in Winnipeg.

It’s been big for me to be playing again and to be able to say, ‘I’m a Bomber.’ You have to understand what a player goes through when he gets cut. When I got cut, I started thinking so negatively. I was an All-American in college and then I get cut in Seattle and I was like, ‘Man… I guess I’m not good.’

I go to Washington and I’m up and down on the practice squad. I come back for the second year and hurt my back. I had surgery and I’m telling the guys I’m great health-wise, but they didn’t believe it and I get cut right after I got healthy.

Cleveland picked me up and I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is my chance… I can make this team and help make a difference.’ And then I pull my hamstring in the conditioning test. I was running and I felt a pop. I was shocked. They cut me and I’m thinking ‘C’mon… can’t I catch a break? What do I need to change to make this work? Do I need to be more attentive to details? Do I need to work extra hard in the weight room? Do I need to get back to the basics?’

Going through that, it was good I had my dad and my mom in my corner because they are always preaching the positive.

You feel like a nomad when you get cut and are trying to find a place to play. You don’t know where your next home is. Everybody is saying, ‘Next year we’ll come visit you and we’ll do this and we’ll do that.’ And all I can say is ‘Hang on, I’ve got to see where I’m going to be first.’ That’s frustrating. I have gotten so good at packing up and moving my stuff. I’m pretty efficient at it, but it’s not fun. I just started using my mom’s address or my girlfriend’s address in Texas as a mailing address. You’re changing your ID, your licence… everything.

I feel comfortable now. I feel like I’m going to be here next year. I feel like I’ve put enough on tape to be able to play again next year. You can never be overconfident, I’ll make sure I put in even more work, but I’ve enjoyed it here.

I’ve been living with Ian Wild, Jake Thomas, Jovan Santos-Knox and Mike Miller. The other night we had some guys over from one of the other bigger houses… John Rush, Derek Jones, Trent Corney came over and we had a board game night. We played Settlers of Catan… pretty fun. They played Clue, Monopoly Game of Thrones version. The D-line group, we like to get together. We have our D-line dinners, the guys come over and just hang out, play games, just watch TV and chill. It’s really fun to me because my family is a tight-knit family and to be with guys who are tight like that is important to me.

It’s stuff like that which makes playing up here different from the NFL. And some people might not agree with me, but in the NFL there’s a lot of money involved so there are a lot of people being stabbed in the back. Up here it seems like teams are closer. I have a group of friends on this team that have really made me feel included.

I love the D-line room. Those are my brothers in there. We’re always joking, we’ve got a group text… it’s just fun. When I was in the NFL we had a group text, but they wouldn’t let me in the group text because I had a Samsung phone, unlike everybody else. That’s messed up.

In the NFL it often felt like we just came to work, got our paycheques and left.

All of this is why I don’t want this to end yet. We want to keep playing not just because it’s the playoffs, but because we want be together as long as we can. That’s what has made this team special. That’s what has made my year here special.