BAD BOY NO MORE

Rid­ers’ Jef­fer­son has trans­formed him­self

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - MUR­RAY MCCORMICK mm­c­cormick@post­media.com twit­ter.com/mur­raylp

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.”

JOHN WOODS/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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