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This article was published 22/1/2019 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The fond memories came first, followed by visions of a prosperous future.
Faced with a decision on where to continue his professional football career, Jackson Jeffcoat, a hulking defensive end, considered how far he’s come and where he still hopes to go. In the end, it all led back to the same place — Winnipeg.
On Monday, Jeffcoat signed a two-year extension with the Blue Bombers of the CFL.
Set to become a free agent on Feb. 12, Jeffcoat could have waited a few weeks to cash in on the open market. Now, the 27-year-old native of Dallas is committed through the 2020 season.
"At first, I was thinking about (testing free agency), but then me and my dad had talked... about how the feeling of being wanted is a great feeling," Jeffcoat said Monday during a conference call.
"I tried my shot at the NFL and I didn’t feel like I was wanted. Coming out of college, I wasn’t drafted by anybody and I didn’t feel like I was wanted. The Bombers wanted me. They were actively trying to get me back on the team and that’s special to me.
"I feel like I can thrive in an atmosphere like this."
To be sure, Jeffcoat gauged interest in other places first. He’d had short stints with the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns before coming north to the CFL, so he wanted to give the NFL an honest go the second time around.
His agent (whom he replaced early in the off-season) wasn’t getting him the attention he felt he deserved, so he hired someone who would. After that, he worked out for the Cincinnati Bengals, who showed some interest. But after numerous talks — none of which made Jeffcoat feel confident the Bengals wanted him — he chose not to turn his back on a good thing in the CFL.
It didn’t hurt that the Bombers were retaining a number of important pieces to last season’s much-improved defence, including middle linebacker Adam Bighill, the CFL’s reigning most outstanding defensive player, who was signed to a three-year deal last week.
"I had so much fun playing in Winnipeg. I had so much fun in the city, with the people — the great people, the friendly people — (all the other) stuff was gone in my mind and I wanted to come back to the team that actually wanted me and gave me a chance in the CFL," Jeffcoat said.
He joined the Bombers in 2017, earning immediate regard during training camp for his size — he stands 6-3 and weighs 251 pounds — and speed off the edge. The Bombers knew he had football in his blood as the son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, who won two Super Bowls during a career than spanned 15 years and 227 pro games.
Jeffcoat demonstrated he could slide into a starting role in Winnipeg, and he didn’t disappoint. In his rookie campaign, he finished tied for the team-lead in sacks (seven) while adding one interception, one forced fumble and 36 defensive tackles. His rapid rise softened the blow of losing Canadian defensive tackle Jamaal Westerman to the Montreal Alouettes in 2018.
Last season, Jeffcoat was limited to 12 games, missing six weeks with a lower-body injury he suffered in late August during a loss to the Calgary Stampeders. He returned two months later to help Winnipeg secure a playoff berth and saved his best for last, collecting four sacks in playoff games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders. Calgary narrowly defeated the Bombers at home, 22-14, in the West final.
Jeffcoat likes the direction the Bombers are heading.
"Not only are we close to winning the Grey Cup, but we’re a close team. We like each other; no matter what was going on, we were still communicating with each other after the season," Jeffcoat said.
Winnipeg finished the 2018 season with a 10-8 record — a regression from previous years (12-6 in 2017 and 11-7 in 2016) — but major improvements were indeed made on the defensive side of the ball. The Bombers allowed the second-fewest points against per game (20.8 average), behind only Calgary (17.8), and jumped from the bottom of the pack to the middle or upper tier of the league in other areas, including net offence against (346.1 yards, 5th), passing touchdowns against (15, second) and rushing yards against (99.2, third). The Bombers were also tied with Calgary for the most turnovers forced (49).
The numbers suggest the squad is onto something special, Jeffcoat said.
"Going back to what we did last year, we were close. I’m really competitive. I don’t like being close — I want to go and get it," he said. "I haven’t been able to win a championship playing football. Winnipeg is the best chance I have to win a championship."
In the meantime, Jeffcoat plans to continue his off-season working out in Austin, where he bought a condo prior to joining the Bombers two years ago. He said he’s healthy and feeling better than he has in years. He still has a few other adventures planned before arriving in Winnipeg for training camp in May, but with the biggest to-do crossed off his list, he looks forward to what’s in store.
"This third year is going to be even better because I’m always trying to be a student of the game. That’s one thing my parents have always preached: ‘Don’t ever be a know-it-all. Don’t think you know it all because there’s always something else you can learn.’ That’s what I’m gonna do," he said. "Keep learning, keep being a student of the game and then pass on what I know, what I’ve learned, to the guys that are coming after."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @jeffkhamilton
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 7:43 AM CST: Adds photo