Jackson Jeffcoat can still see the confetti.
It might have been from the postgame celebration when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif., or it might have been from the victory parade that followed back home. Jeffcoat's not quite sure. But to this day, the Plano West senior can close his eyes and see waves of shimmering paper twirling toward him out of the sky.
Little more than a toddler at the time of his dad's first Super Bowl victory with the Cowboys, Jeffcoat is just happy to remember anything from the experience. He has plenty of other vivid memories of his father's NFL career with the Cowboys and Bills -- fun-filled days at Valley Ranch, the joy in an NFL locker room after a win, the biting cold of Buffalo -- but the confetti still stands out. In fact, it represents a major goal for Jeffcoat, whose quest is just getting started.
"My dad had an incredible career," Jeffcoat says. "I want to outdo him in every category. Not even because I feel pressure to live up to what he did or anything like that. More because he set the bar so high that those are great goals to have."
In 15 years as a defensive end in the NFL, Jim Jeffcoat won two Super Bowls and piled up 102.5 sacks and 709 tackles. He is one of just 24 NFL players to record more than 100 career sacks. And while the younger Jeffcoat is years away from even having the chance to start chasing those accomplishments, he already has one feather in his cap his dad can't match. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive end entered his senior season rated the nation's No. 1 overall recruit in the ESPNU 150.
"He wants to be better than me and I love that," says his father, who is in his second year as a defensive line coach at the University of Houston. "You have to have those goals and be that competitive to make it. And if he gets there, if he wins Super Bowls and gets more sacks, there will be no one happier for him than me."
It wasn't long ago that the confetti was a tease for Jeffcoat. After his dad's playing days were over, the elder Jeffcoat spent seven years coaching the D-line for the Cowboys. That meant Jackson grew up with unfettered access to the crown jewel of NFL franchises. Every day he spent wandering around the weight room or watching a practice, he was reminded of the excitement he'd experienced first-hand years earlier.
There was just one problem: Jeffcoat wasn't allowed to play football until sixth grade.
His father's reasons for keeping him off the field made sense. Jim Jeffcoat was intent on making sure his son truly wanted to play football and wasn't doing it because he felt pressured. Plus, football is a game in which every player is constantly hoping to avoid injury, so why risk a severe setback before the games even matter?
And Jeffcoat had plenty else going on while he was growing up. He was a standout basketball and baseball player and took part in martial arts training. So once he finally strapped on the pads, he had terrific all-around athleticism to go with his off-the-charts football IQ.
He wants to be better than me and I love that. You have to have those goals and be that competitive to make it.
-- Jim Jeffcoat
By eighth grade, Jeffcoat was so impressive on the gridiron that his future coach at Plano West, Mike Hughes, told him if he was allowed to play eighth-graders on varsity, Jeffcoat would be playing. Hughes had to wait one more year for Jeffcoat to arrive, but he followed through on the sentiment and made the rare move of promoting a freshman to varsity at the Class 5A level.
"It has to be clear that a freshman can make an impact on varsity to call him up," Hughes says. "With Jackson, there was never a doubt."
Splitting time between linebacker and defensive lineman, Jeffcoat recorded 28 tackles and four sacks as a freshman to earn The Dallas Morning News' Newcomer of the Year honors. He made the permanent move to defensive end as a sophomore and piled up 17 sacks and 172 tackles the next two seasons.
Even though his father played the same position, Jeffcoat has developed a style all his own. While his father had a great first step and relied primarily on speed, Jackson uses powerful hands and arms to force opposing linemen out of their comfort zones before barreling toward the quarterback. Despite their differences, the younger Jeffcoat is constantly peppering his father with questions about technique, training and mental preparation.
"I was lucky to play with two of the greats of all time -- Randy White and Bruce Smith -- and what distinguished those guys was their work ethic and their obsessive game preparation," Jim Jeffcoat says. "I see those same qualities in Jackson. He knows he's going to get doubled, he knows he is going to be the center of attention, and he loves trying to figure out how to overcome it."
Now that he's earned the label of the nation's top recruit and holds scholarship offers from every NCAA powerhouse, Jeffcoat might start seeing triple-teams this fall. And that's just fine with him. The Wolves have been bounced in the first round of the playoffs each of the past three years, and he's desperate to make a deep postseason run this fall, even if it means his astronomical numbers come back to earth.
"Football is the ultimate team game," Jeffcoat says. "So if two guys are on me, that completely frees someone else up. It's like we have an extra player, and we'll make them pay."
Spoken like someone who has seen some things inside an NFL locker room.
Matt Remsberg covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.