Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson is one-third of the so-called "Cali Trio," a collection of signees from the 2010 class who made big impacts as freshmen and have blossomed into leaders in 2012. Teammates Kenny Stills (receiver) and Brennan Clay (runing back) have helped pave the way for a miniature recruiting pipeline between Oklahoma and California, the latest of which featured starting running back Damien Williams, a fellow San Diego native.
Jefferson leads the Sooners with 48 tackles and has two tackles for loss, an interception and a pass breakup after moving to his traditional safety spot this season. He took some time this week to talk with ESPN.com about the Sooners' mammoth top 10 showdown with Notre Dame this week, the first time the teams have met since 1999.
Author's note: Portions of this interview were edited for length considerations.
What first comes to mind when you think about Notre Dame?
Tony Jefferson: Tradition. Just another school kind of like ours with a bunch of history. They've got athletic players and great coaching as well.
I have to ask. Have you seen Rudy?
TJ: (Laughs) Yes, I have.
What were your thoughts?
TJ: It just shows how much prestige and history is behind that organization in South Bend.
From what you can see, what have the Irish done to reach this point without a loss?
TJ: They find ways to win. They've got playmakers on both sides of the ball up front. On defense, they can get a push and they can get penetration on a very good offense. You've got to be aware of that. Obviously, they've got Manti Te'o, who plays with so much passion and has so much drive, just one of the most athletic linebackers you'll see across college football, and their secondary is pretty good.
Offensively, you have the tight end who's making amazing plays with his size and ability, and they're just good across the board on the offensive line.
You'll be focusing on the offense in game-planning of course, but you mentioned Te'o. What sticks out to you about what he brings to the table?
TJ: I have to say he's smart. He's a smart football player. I've watched Manti Te'o since I was in high school and I'd been watching him play. Just to see him now, how he's grown in the game and how much better he's become, it shows he's committed to what he does. I don't know him personally, but you get the feeling he's one of those hard-working type of guys who feels honored to play college football and plays every down with some heart. You've got to respect a guy who respects the game that way.
Notre Dame is obviously a big name, but when you think about the excitement of this week, how does it compare to, say, the week of the Texas game?
TJ: The OU-Texas rivalry is big and that rivalry's been going on for a long time, but I'm from California. The Oklahoma-Texas thing, that's what's been going on here. I grew up a USC fan and never really been a fan of Notre Dame too much. Once I saw we were playing Notre Dame, it definitely excited me, and I wanted to get after them a little bit, get 'em back for that game, the Reggie Bush Push.
How has this team looked so dominant the past three games, when the first three games, it looked like you were off to a bit of a slow start?
TJ: It's come down to the point where you take a loss against Kansas State and there's no more room for error. You've got to go out there and play well. Our preparation leading into games has been tremendously better. Our focus has been tremendously better. We understand what's on the table for us. We understand that it's going to be up to us to go and get that. Our mindset has changed. Not that it wasn't in the right place before, but I think there's been an added punch to it.
By my count, this is the Big 12's best defense. That wasn't the case last year. Why have you seen so much improvement?
TJ: I think last year we had a few guys in the wrong spot. Now, we're able to put some guys where they'll succeed best. From what coach Mike (Stoops) saw from the outside look is we've got the athletes, and he wanted to let those athletes be athletes and be more aggressive. Coach Venables is a very smart football genius. He was about schemes and doing different things. Our strength is being able to go out there and play our game as a unit, and as players. I think that's helped us out.