During Tony Jefferson's freshman year of high school, his coaches at Chula Vista (Calif.) Eastside promoted him to the varsity for the playoffs.
Trailing a talented Oceanside team, coach John McFadden planned to put Jefferson in for a “play or two” in the second half.
“We were getting beat up a little,” McFadden said. “We said, ‘What the heck? Let's put him in and see what he can do.”
A few plays turned into playing a lot. Jefferson recorded two sacks, three tackles and caused a fumble.
“We were like, ‘Whoa! This kid is for real,'” McFadden said. “We said, ‘Why didn't have him up all year?'”
From that point on, Jefferson displayed traits that helped him develop into one of the top players in the San Diego area. Those traits are also the a reason McFadden believes Jefferson has a shot at being an All-American in his junior season at Oklahoma.
Jefferson played much of his first two seasons at strongside linebacker, a position OU coaches label the Roybacker, a position named after former star Roy Williams.
“They're similar in some ways, and they both understand football very well,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “When you teach them, they pick up things very well. Tony's not as big as Roy, but he has a lot of the same components. He has a knack for making big plays.”
OU coaches moved Jefferson to free safety late last season after Javon Harris was burned repeatedly in a loss at Baylor.
This spring, it became a permanent move. Jefferson gives coaches confidence he can minimize blown coverages that plagued the Sooners.
“I watched him in the Iowa game and he played free safety very well,” Stoops said. “The big thing for Tony is just staying within the confines of the defense and don't try to make every play.
Last season, Jefferson finished third on the team with 74 tackles. He also recorded 4 1/2 sacks and four interceptions. He likes the change.