July 7, 2020

Winnipeg
16° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Jefferson named top defender

Blue Bombers defensive end claims CFL award

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive lineman Willie Jefferson hoists the trophy for the most outstanding defensive player at the CFL Awards during the CFL's Grey Cup week in Calgary, Thursday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive lineman Willie Jefferson hoists the trophy for the most outstanding defensive player at the CFL Awards during the CFL's Grey Cup week in Calgary, Thursday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2019 (228 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CALGARY — He was among the biggest free-agent fish to hit the talent pool this winter. Coming off a stellar 2018 season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Willie Jefferson was looking for a change of scenery and, in doing so, had the rare opportunity to pick whatever suitor he deemed worthy.

Offers would come from almost every team. After all, it wasn’t every day a player such as Jefferson — a 6-7, 248-pound experienced and proven defensive end — hits the open market.

The B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts all put forth fair offers. But when Jefferson, who had taken a liking to passionate football fans on the Prairies during his time in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, looked at putting down new roots, it was Winnipeg he desired most.

"It’s just the feeling that I got being out here, like when I was in Saskatchewan, or even when like the first time I came to Canada, when I was a rookie playing with Edmonton. Being here is fun. Having those fans on your back," Jefferson said Thursday. "Seeing the players in Winnipeg and seeing the way they want to play for coach (Mike) O’Shea. Seeing the way they want to play for the city. I knew it was a good place to be."

Fast-forward nearly 10 months and Jefferson’s decision has paid off in a big way. On Thursday, the 28-year-old native of Beaumont, Texas, was named the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player, edging out East Division nominee, Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence.

Jefferson came as advertised, putting together an incredible 2019 campaign where he racked up a career-high 12 sacks, added 24 tackles and had one interception. He forced six fumbles, registered five tackles for a loss and set a new CFL record for most pass knockdowns by a defensive lineman, with 16.

Veteran linebacker Adam Bighill didn’t know much about Jefferson when he arrived for training camp in May. He knew, of course, who he was and used to make an effort to reach out to him after every game they played against each other. He did it as a sign of respect for another player he believed put as much into the game as he did each day.

His opinion of Jefferson was confirmed when they became teammates, working closely together in defensive meetings.

"Some guys rely more on their athletic ability to be able to adjust, no matter what, they try to make things happen without necessarily knowing where they need to go," said Bighill, who was the 2018 most outstanding defensive player. "But I will say, even coming and playing with us this year, he was even able to step up his football IQ even more, which was really great to see because he already started with a good football understanding."

Bighill wasn’t the only one pleasantly surprised by what they saw from Jefferson. Defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall was also impressed by what Jefferson brought to his defence — an intimidating presence who was also emerging as a leader.

"I never visualized that because a lot of time, the person that has all the ability doesn’t emerge into that type of a player," he said. "But he’s been selfless. He’s played within our scheme and he’s enjoyed playing in Winnipeg and that makes it a lot easier. He’s bought into what we want to do."

Hall said he marvelled at Jefferson’s size, including a seven-foot wingspan that could block out the sun. He knew when the Bombers signed him they were getting a franchise player. But Jefferson, he said, provided even more than that.

"He understands what offences are trying and he tries to combat it — and he works hard," Hall said. "A lot of times, when you have a great athlete, sometimes they don’t work as hard as they could or they rely so much on their athletic ability. But he’s always trying to work, bringing others to the table to make him a better football player. And when he’s a better football player, we’re a better defence and we’re a better football team."

"Oh, God, his passion for the game and his desire to be better. I love listening to Willie in the meeting room and looking at him and watching him learn," O’Shea said. "I like to listen to his questions and I like how he helps his teammates and he speaks from the heart. I like listening to him when he does that, too."

Jefferson viewed the award as validation for all the hard work he put in this year, and the people who helped him throughout his journey.

"I put in a lot of work this off-season and I had a lot of people to play for this year. Having my family up here with me, being married for a year to my wife Holly, having my daughter Kelley here, too," Jefferson said. "It also shows my desire of wanting to be a top-tier player. Going against guys like Charleston (Hughes), Odell (Willis), (John) Bowman — that’s the top-tier guys that I look up to.

"Since coming into the league, that’s the guys that I’m trying to be better than.

"So, for me, winning this trophy and showing those guys that I’ve been able to put my work in, trying to be like them, be a little bit better than them. Yeah, it means a lot."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us