Jefferson filling OU leadership void

NORMAN, Okla. -- There is a bit of uncertainty surrounding Tony Jefferson.

As spring football begins, the Oklahoma coaching staff is searching for the best way to utilize arguably their most-talented defender. Is he a linebacker or a safety?

Jefferson, 5-foot-10, 212 pounds, excels along the line of scrimmage, making instinctive plays against the run while remaining active in pass defense. He also holds his own in pass coverage, playing sound and smart football as a deep safety.

It's easy to see the coaches' quandary.

One thing, however, is certain: Jefferson will be on the field. And he expects to be one of the leaders, not only on the defense, but throughout the entire program.

As the then-sophomore looked around the locker room after the Insight Bowl last December, he made up his mind.

"Being in the Insight Bowl, being with my teammates and knowing the potential we have, the athletic ability we have, [it] goes way beyond where we were at," Jefferson said. "So I felt it's upon me to step up and be a better leader and better teammate."

His new role began immediately, long before he joined his teammates on the practice field Monday for the first time in 2012, two months after the season ended.

"I'm in that role right now," Jefferson said. "I've seen what the leaders before me [did], it's my third spring practice, so I know what it takes. I feel like I can be a leader on this team."

Jefferson understands that being a difference maker on the field is no longer enough. As one of the most-talented players on the roster, he also needs to be a prominent team leader, particularly with linebacker Travis Lewis no longer in the locker room.

Jefferson is in a role similar to "Cali Trio" buddy Kenny Stills, who could be asked to fill the leadership void left by receiver Ryan Broyles.

"Before, we would be watching to see how it is to lead," Jefferson said of himself and Stills' evolving roles. "Now we are in the spotlight to lead. It's up to us how we handle things. We have to continue to do the right things, not just on the field but everywhere else."

Jefferson already has displayed the qualities of leadership with his consistent play and willingness to play through injuries as a sophomore.

"The guys look up to me," Jefferson said of sliding into the leadership role with relative ease. "As long as I'm doing the right thing, they're going to follow me in the right way."

In addition, he often has asked to host recruits on their visits, a sign the coaches trust him to be a positive spokesman for the program and active recruiter while those prospects are on campus.

Regardless of where he lines up on Saturdays in the fall -- either as a hybrid linebacker or deep safety -- Jefferson is proving to be a valuable chess piece for the coaching staff, regardless of how he is used.

And that's exactly how he wants it to be.

"I want the coaches to feel like they can rely on me," Jefferson said. "For more than just recruiting, more than being good in the classroom ... for the team [as a leader] to bring us all together."

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