Jeffcoat grows into nation's top player

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat has been one of the top overall athletes in Texas since his freshman year of high school.

Now Jeffcoat is the No. 1 football prospect in the country in the ESPNU 150.

"It's very exciting [to be ranked No. 1]," Jeffcoat said. "There are so many great players around the country, so to be ranked as the top one is a big-time honor, especially by ESPN."

Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/Plano West) had 94 tackles, including 11 for loss, and seven sacks his junior season and has been an all-state selection in football since his sophomore year. On top of that, he's been one of the best high school basketball players in Texas since he was a freshman and is one belt away from being a black belt in taekwondo.

Plano West coach Mike Hughes is hard-pressed to find a player he's coached that compares to Jeffcoat. Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Justin Hall, whom Hughes coached when he was at Plano High, was the only other player that approached Jeffcoat's level.

"I have really only coached two guys who are like this," Hughes said. "[Jeffcoat and Hall] were the only two that were that good."

Jeffcoat is the son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman and current Houston Cougars defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat. Though the elder Jeffcoat, a 15-year pro, is an obvious influence on his son, it wasn't like he started teaching him the intricacies of playing defensive end at a young age.

"I wanted him to be as natural as possible," Jim Jeffcoat said.

Jackson believes his father's approach has helped him develop into not only the player he is, but the player he can be down the road.

"My dad has helped me a lot," he said. "He didn't want to put a lot of pressure on me. He wanted this process to be real natural, so he didn't tell me a lot of stuff when I was young. We both have the same desire to be the best, and by listening to him I have become a better player."

Jim Jeffcoat isn't the only athlete in the family who has helped Jackson develop. Jackson's mother, Tammy, was an excellent tennis player, while his twin sister, Jacqueline, is committed to play basketball for the Oklahoma Sooners, one of the top programs in the country. His older brother, Jaren, plays basketball for Norwich University in Vermont.

So while watching his dad play for the Cowboys and Bills had some influence, watching and competing against his older brother may have had even more.

"When I was in middle school, [Jaren] played high school football," Jackson said. "I used to watch him and want to do the things he does. I have always played sports. I loved sports growing up, watching my dad play in the NFL, and also playing soccer. I watched my mom play tennis.

"But I would always play and compete with my brother. We would go out and get after it and compete like brothers do."

His family not only helped shape him on the field; they have turned Jackson into a player others look up to off the field as well.

"The great thing about him is that it's not about him," Hughes said. "A lot of times the guys that are great players aren't team players, but not Jackson. I've seen Jackson tell the local newspaper here that they need to talk to his teammates if they want to talk to him. I've seen guys that are good, but they don't have the type of attitude that Jackson does."

Said Jim Jeffcoat: "He's a very humble kid, and he hasn't put himself out there. He understands that you are only as good as the people around you."

Nearly every program in the country has offered Jackson Jeffcoat a scholarship, but he has it down to a final six: Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Houston, Southern California and Florida. With the exception of Florida, there is a family tie with each of his finalists. His father coaches at Houston, played for the Sun Devils and is a former teammate of Trojans assistant Ken Norton, Jr., while Jackson's sister is a future basketball player for the Sooners. But don't be fooled into thinking there is any internal family pressure for Jackson to go anywhere but where he wants to go.

"There isn't one system that necessarily fits both [of them]," Jim Jeffcoat said. "They are going to make their own decisions and do what is best for them. My daughter felt that Oklahoma was right for her, but they are individuals. They are going to do what fits them best."

Jackson Jeffcoat agreed, saying that he has no concrete plans on a commit date and wants to learn about the schools he still has under consideration. He plans to take some official visits during the season and then decide when the time is right.

"Things are going good with the process now," he said. "We are gathering information on each program and finding out everything we can so that we can make an educated decision."

JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at jcsespn@aol.com.