10 Questions With Tony Jefferson

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1. You’re heading back home to Southern California, which sparks the great burger debate. So who makes the best burger?

“Anthony Levine made an obnoxious comment saying that In-n-Out is comparable to McDonald’s. I like McDonald’s fries. … In-N-Out is by far the best burger spot in the world that I’ve tasted. There’s a bunch of people on this team that haven’t had it. So when we get to L.A. on Thursday, that’s the first place we’re going. You get the 4-by-4 Animal-style with grilled onions and it tastes like heaven. It’s the closest thing to heaven you can get is In-N-Out.”

2. You left Southern California to go to Oklahoma for college. How did you end up there?

“Not to toot my own horn, but I was highly sought after. I had a few options. My high school coach said I was like a high school girl trying to pick a prom dress. My first commitment was to Stanford my freshman year. Then verbal to USC. Verbal to UCLA. Then I verballed to Florida with Urban Meyer. Then verballed back to UCLA. Then right before I was about to sign, I was at the Army All-American game, I verballed to USC for a second time. My last meeting with Pete Carroll, his brother and all them, they wanted me to play running back. Urban Meyer wanted me to play running back. A lot of schools wanted me to play running back. Then USC, Pete Carroll got in trouble while I was at the Army All-American Game. I was distraught. I randomly picked Oklahoma. I took a visit to Oklahoma and really didn’t have that good of a visit, to be honest. My host left me at the club. I had to sleep on the floor of his friend because the coaches were asleep. It was bad. I just picked it. They’d been winning, they had some good players go there. So I chose OU. I know for sure USC was mad at me. That was a tough decision for me. NCAA Football, the video game, didn’t help with all that because I kept creating myself in everybody’s uniform and was like, ‘Woo!’”

3. Why didn’t you stick with running back?

“When I finally committed to Oklahoma, I met with Bob Stoops and Bobby Jack Wright, and they told me they would try me at both when I get there, but they apparently had their own plan already. When I got there and it was time for meetings, I was directed to the defensive meeting room. I wasn’t too happy about it, I’m not going to lie. It took me a while to get adjusted to the Midwest, coming from San Diego. I remember in the summer, I was ready to transfer. I was talking to my boy like, ‘Man, I’m about to come back home. I can’t do this.’ I met with the coaches and they told me stuff I wanted to hear at the time, so I stuck with them.”

Do you ever think about what would’ve happened if you stuck at running back?

“All the time. I think about that all the time. I think I would’ve been a successful running back in this league.”

You can’t even keep a straight face as you’re saying this. “No. I honestly think if I would have stuck with running back and kept working at it … I have a body as a running back [pulls up his shorts to show his quads]. I think if I would have worked at it, I would have been a successful running back.”

4. How many times have you showed Willie Snead IV the highlight of you making a one-handed pick in front of him when you faced him in college?

“It’s been a minute. But now that you remind me, I’ll probably watch that later on tonight. More of those are coming soon, so I won’t have to be watching those old ones.”

Was that the best pick of your career? “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

5. Was the interception you had on Vance McDonald in Pittsburgh this year your best in the NFL?

“That was actually ruled a force fumble. I think that was an interception, but it is what it is. They said he made the catch. Just because of the situation I was in and we were in as a team … it was Pittsburgh Steelers week. It just made that play way better. I wish I would have scored on it. They said his foot touched my ankle. Unfortunate, but we scored so it was OK.”

6. How cool has it been to join forces with Eric Weddle, who is another Southern California guy?

“It’s been pretty cool. And we’re neighbors too. He’s four or five minutes from me. It’s just a great situation that just happened. I always watched him growing up. He used to wear the sleeve. It’s funny, me and my friends used to think Eric was African-American. We really never saw his skin and he had a darker visor shield. We thought he was a light-skinned black dude. I never knew he was white until I got here. I had never seen him outside of his uniform. He said he gets that a lot.”

7. What’s the best part of playing safety?

“You have the opportunity to choose what type of safety you want to be based on game plan. If you have a matchup with tight ends, that day you’re going to consider yourself a corner or nickel back. If it’s a run-stopping game, you may look at yourself like a linebacker or in-the-box kind of guy. You have the ability to be more versatile in that position based on what’s asked of you. I don’t think people understand the job safeties have to do in today’s league. You have to cover tight ends all day and receivers too, and you have to be able to fill in in the run game. The versatility level keeps raising as these offensive players get more skilled. I love the challenge of it.”

8. Safeties were always known for blowing people up. How much have you had to adapt your game because of the NFL’s rule changes on hits with the helmet?

“I had to. Based on my alignment and where I’m at. Most of our plays are downhill tackles. Now I have to think about it. I don’t want to put the team at jeopardy by lowering my head, which is kind of what I was used to. That’s how I played my whole life. And I’ve been fined already – $20,000. It was on a quarterback so … You want to think you don’t care about it, but that’s a lot of money. You want to be cognitive of it, but at the same time, you don’t want to slow yourself down.”

9. Which safeties and running backs did you grow up watching?

“Obviously Sean Taylor, Steve Atwater, Rod Woodson. Reggie Bush because he was from San Diego and went to USC, which was probably why I wanted to go there mostly. I liked Cadillac Williams, Arian Foster. Arian Foster’s from San Diego too. His team beat my brother’s team in the semis to go to the high school championship.”

10. What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

“I’m addicted to paintball. I love the rush, the combat. People don’t get it, but paintball is pretty intense, man. Some of my boys fell off from it, but I have a couple who go pretty religiously when I go back home. And I GoPro it, so it’s pretty cool.”

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