BAD BOY NO MORE
Riders’ Jefferson has transformed himself
WINNIPEG Willie Jefferson’s life is an open social-media account.
Although some athletes are reluctant to let fans and followers into their personal lives, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive end posts videos of himself interacting with his wife Holly and the couple’s seven-month-old daughter, Kelley.
“That’s because she’s my first daughter,” said Jefferson, who has 8,700 followers on Instagram and another 4,500 on Twitter.
“I’ve seen a lot of people do good things through fatherhood and I’ve seen a lot of people do bad things through fatherhood. I just want people to know that I’m human and there will be some bad times. There will also be a lot of good times and I want people to see me having fun with my wife and my daughter.”
Jefferson’s social-media accounts include an assortment of football photos. He has also posted photos and videos of himself cuddling with his wife and daughter, showing a softer side to the fiveyear CFL veteran.
“Fatherhood has changed me because I know now that everything isn’t just about me,” said Jefferson, 27, who’s in his third season with the Riders. “I have to look after somebody now and protect somebody else.”
Chris Jones, the Riders’ head coach and general manager, has known Jefferson since the lanky defensive end signed with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2014. Jones was Edmonton’s head coach in 2014 and 2015 and he has watched Jefferson grow into a bona fide CFL star on and off the field.
“He has always had that tremendous athleticism,” Jones said. “Sometimes he would pick and choose (his spots) and that kind of thing. He has become more consistent with his play and being physical all of the time. He’s a tremendous athlete and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
It’s hard to miss the six-foot-six Jefferson. At 245 pounds, he is lean for a defensive end, but makes up for it with speed and athleticism.
He has exhibited those traits while returning two interceptions for touchdowns this season, in addition to recording nine sacks.
His first pick-six was during a 32-27 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sept. 8. With the Riders trailing 10-0, he intercepted a Matt Nichols pass and returned it 97 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
Saturday ’s game against the Blue Bombers marks Saskatchewan’s first trip to Winnipeg since Jefferson’s game-changing touchdown.
On Monday, Jefferson intercepted Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly and returned the pick 49 yards for a game-winning touchdown in the Riders’ 19-12 victory.
“(Jefferson) is a freak athlete and a rare breed,” said Riders defensive tackle Eddie Steele, who was Jefferson’s teammate for two seasons with the Eskimos. “There aren’t many guys around that are his height and with his skill set that can move the way he moves, bend the way he bends, and still get around the corner on a pass rush. He’s very elusive and an amazing athlete.”
Jefferson played basketball and football and was also involved in gymnastics and track and field while growing up in Beaumont, Texas.
He was a receiver in high school and landed a scholarship at Baylor University, where he spent nearly two seasons.
Two violations for alleged marijuana possession within weeks of each other in 2010 led to him being kicked off the team.
Jefferson transferred to Stephen F. Austin University, where he was switched from receiver to defensive end. In his first game with the Lumberjacks, he returned an interception for a touchdown and recorded a sack.
He signed with the NFL’S Houston Texans as a free agent on April 27, 2013. Seven months later, he and two other players were released for violating team rules.
“I wish I could go back and take away a couple of things that I did in my past to benefit my future,” Jefferson said. “I did what I did, but that was then and this is now. I’ve made up for a lot of my mistakes. I’m just trying to live my life better going forward.”
Jefferson is doing that through his involvement in numerous community endeavours.
In 2017, he organized a drive to assist victims of the flooding in Beaumont and surrounding area.
Closer to Regina, Jefferson and slotback Naaman Roosevelt are the Riders’ co-ambassadors with Kidsport.
Jefferson has also served as an ambassador for Cameco Touchdown for Dreams since 2016. The program grants wishes to women who are facing a life-threatening cancer diagnosis.
“It’s anything I can do in the community for Cameco or the team,” Jefferson said. “With the breast cancer stuff, they contact me and I do what I can. With Kidsport,
I did what I did, but that was then and this is now. I’ve made up for a lot of my mistakes.
it’s what I can do to help with youth sports in Regina and in Saskatchewan.”
That attitude reflects how much Jefferson has matured since joining the CFL.
“When he got to the (CFL), he was just a young buck and he was still figuring himself and the league out,” Steele said. “It’s pretty amazing to see him now.
“His work ethic has changed. His approach to the game has changed and he is a man now. He has a (wife) and a kid. It’s pretty cool to see that transformation.”
That transformation is noticeable in the locker room.
“He’s a character in the good sense,” Steele said. “He’s not a troublemaker by any means. He’s not a difficult teammate to deal with. He does all of the right things and he’s a vocal leader. I’ve seen him do all of the right things since the first time I met him.”
Jefferson has embraced his role as a leader with the Riders.
“Five years ago in the league, I never knew I would be in this position and to have the things that I have now,” he said. “I’m a team captain to guys who are older than me and have been in the league a lot longer than me.
“To have them look up to me as somebody who can lead them is special.”
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Willie Jefferson celebrates an interception-return touchdown in the Sept. 8 game against the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, where he returns this weekend.