Jackson Jeffcoat was all decked out in Winnipeg Blue Bombers colours – the blue shirt, the shiny blue jacket featuring the club’s helmet, and the whole ensemble smartly topped with a ‘Grey Cup Champions’ hat.
And, of course, there was a ginormous smile dominating his face.
The moments were caught earlier this week in a pair of photographs tweeted out by the University of Texas Longhorns, Jeffcoat’s alma mater, as the Blue Bombers defensive end dropped in at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX with the Grey Cup trophy in tow.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) January 6, 2022
And in many ways, those two snapshots serve as the perfect representation of where Jeffcoat is right now in his career – heck, in his life – in the wake of signing a one-year contract extension with the Blue Bombers on Friday. It wasn’t necessarily always that way, it’s worth noting, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But Jeffcoat feels content now and wanted by the Blue Bombers after indicating in a conference call with media on Saturday he thought hard about heading to free agency before negotiations this week where “Winnipeg showed they really cared about me and wanted me to be in Winnipeg and that’s more important than any amount of money I could get if I went to free agency and went to another team.”
Jeffcoat’s interview lasted the better part of 17 minutes and during the course of the conversation he spoke about his friendship and competitive relationship with fellow defensive end Willie Jefferson, and about the professional roots he’s put down in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers.
“It’s hard to put into words how great of a place Winnipeg is,” Jeffcoat said “It’s just special, from the fans, from the organization, just how people are willing to help, to the culture of the team – the guys love each other. We work hard and hold each other accountable and are always trying to be better and leave our egos at the door and we just get to work.
“And then you’ve got a head man in (Mike) O’Shea who knows how to win, he’s been there before, he’s always studying, always getting better… every year I’ve been there I feel like he’s become a better head coach and I feel like I’ve become a better player every year I’ve been in Winnipeg. There are so many good things I could say about the city and the team. It’s another home away from home, just like Austin became for me.”
Again, that wasn’t always the case, however. When Jeffcoat arrived in Winnipeg in 2017 his goal was to do his thing in the CFL and then get back to ‘The League.’ A big time star with the Longhorns – he was a Consensus All-American and the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 – Jeffcoat had already had stints with Seattle, Washington and Cleveland and figured he’d get another look if he put up good numbers with the Blue Bombers.
A funny thing happened then… Jeffcoat fell in love with his new environment – his teammates, his coaching, the whole vibe – and as he got older, he stopped worrying about answering the questions about why he wasn’t back in the NFL. The finances are clearly not the same, but being comfortable with where he is at in his career also lifted a weight and gave him, in a sense, a freedom of mind.
“It’s funny, people still ask me ‘Why are you not in the NFL? You should be in the NFL,’” Jeffcoat said. “It’s people down there, people out there in Canada… people ask me that all the time. I’m like, ‘Man, everything happens for a reason. I had my time there. I played there for a bit and got to enjoy it. Now it’s my time in the CFL.’
“Everything happens for a reason and the way I was able to get content and be comfortable with the situation in Canada and playing in Winnipeg I stopped trying to compare.
“I know people say this all the time and it’s true: ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ I’m not trying to compare myself any more with other people. It’s always just me against me. Whenever I’m in the off-season it’s always me against me; how am I going to be better than I was yesterday. How am I going to be better than I was a couple minutes ago? How am I going to take it to the next level so I can look back at myself and be proud of that guy that stuck with it and kept working.
“That’s been the biggest thing with me and that’s what’s been able to keep me happy,” he added. “Now, obviously I heard the outside noise and got frustrated by certain things but once I realize I was comparing too much I could focus back in and then got back to just me versus me.”
Jeffcoat’s signing, coupled with that of Jefferson, means the Blue Bombers return the CFL’s two All-Star defensive ends. Now 31, Jeffcoat is coming off a ’21 season in which he piled up a career-best nine quarterback sacks this past season to lead the club, while forcing a league-best four fumbles and adding 26 tackles. He then added two more tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the Bombers’ two playoff games, including the 108th Grey Cup victory in Hamilton. And as his game and comfort level has grown so, too, has his place among the club’s leadership group.
“That has to do with being in a comfortable situation being with Winnipeg,” said Jeffcoat when asked about ‘coming out of his shell’ over the last season. “I trust them, they trust me. I was able to really be myself and speak out when I need to. When I came in, I was just quiet. I wanted to see what was going on. I didn’t know anything, (but) I didn’t want to come in as this arrogant guy that came from the University of Texas and was just in the NFL. I wanted to see what the CFL was about.
“Initially I came in with the goal of going back to the NFL and realized I just fell in love with the CFL and really enjoyed it. I embraced that, too, and so that was part of the change of what happened. I realized this was a great league, great career, great place to live and I want to be here. I stopped looking at ‘Oh, I could go the NFL maybe next year, maybe this year’ and starting thinking ‘Hey, I want to be great in the CFL.’”