Steve Robertson -

Jefferson led the Bulldogs with 13.5 tackles for loss last fall

Last fall, A.J. Jefferson earned a seat at the table as a first year starter. From his defensive end position, Jefferson would go on to record 47 tackles and five sacks. It appeared that the North Pike High School product simply had a knack for finding a path into the opponents' backfield. Now a senior, Jefferson is looking to build on last season's successes.

"My expectation this fall is to show people that I can play on the next level," A.J. Jefferson said. "I really want to just be consistent and show that I can compete with bigger guys and do the same things that they can do."

Jefferson thrived under former Bulldog defensive line coach David Turner who dubbed the the 6-3, 280 pounder the bell cow of the Bulldog front wall last season. With a new coach, a new alignment and new responsibilities, Jefferson is getting the chance to become even more well rounded as a player.

"It has been a smooth transition," Jefferson said. "Playing defensive line is not going to change. There are different things that he wants done that is different than previous coaches, but all of them are pretty much the same in many aspects.

"We ran multiple defenses before, so it's not hard for us to catch up with it. It's always challenging, because you have guys behind you who are just as good or even better than you. Ultimately it makes everybody better, because everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to get on TV and show everybody what they can do. I think it's making everybody better and it's making everybody compete.

"The 3-4 is going to pretty much be our base defense. We did some of that in previous years. When we had Coach (Chris) Wilson here my freshman year, we did it. We just didn't do it as much. I think we have the personnel to do this. We are long enough up front and big enough. We have guys athletic enough to rush off of the edge like Gerri Green, Johnathan Calvin, Will Coleman and (Anfernee) Mullins, so I think this will really fit us more."

The "Viper" position changes things a bit as defensive ends read their keys. Jefferson reports that seeing a pass rusher line up alongside him in a two point stance has helped the team become more explosive.

"If anything I feel that helps me out a lot," Jefferson said of the Viper. "Even if he's not coming, he's still showing (blitz), especially if it's a passing play. I am fixing to run off of the ball, so he can occupy some time with the tackle for me. I think I like that a lot better."

Coach Brian Baker has the benefit of senior leadership in his room. Jefferson is a player who leads in both word and deed, so Bulldogs of all levels of experience follow him.

"It's kind of easy for me, because I am an outgoing person," Jefferson said. "I am a people's person. It's not hard, but I am more of a lead by example type of guy. If I have to say something, I will. Everybody can relate to everybody. I was once a freshman. I was once that young guy coming in here not knowing what I was getting myself into. Guys like Preston (Smith) Josh Boyd and Kaleb Eulls, they kind of showed me the ropes. I am thankful for having them, so now I know how to approach the young guys when they are feeling down and stuff like that and they need some inspiration."

With responsibility comes expectation. Jefferson is now one to shy away from either. The talented senior reports that he feels no anxiety about being cast into a leadership role heading into the season.

"I don't really feel pressure, because I got guys like Nick James, Nelson Adams, Torrey Dale, Johnathan Calvin even though he's a JuCo guy," Jefferson shared. "Those guys have played a bunch of snaps here along with me. I don't feel like it's on me to have to do everything by myself. I feel even if I am slacking, that they can come and pick me up. I think it's a good thing having those guys with me."

Many Bulldog fans have their eyes on newcomer Jeffery Simmons who signed on with Mississippi State in February. The five star talent is expected to see some time in the rotation up front this fall. Jefferson is doing his part to help the heralded freshman come along.

"We were in the weight room the other day and he did like 27 reps of 225," Jefferson said of Simmons. "That right there told me a lot. The guy is strong as an ox, so having him come in and get ready right now, benefit from the plays and learn from us is big.

"Obviously, he is an anxious guy, because he is constantly texting my phone. Nelson told me he has been texting his phone like can we meet up later on and go over a couple of plays, can you talk to me about this or talk to me about that. I think it's important to get him rolling, because he will help us a lot this year."

Jefferson says that the enthusiasm that Simmons has shown for the college game has been encouraging. Many freshmen look to simply fit in, but it appears that Simmons is intent on standing out during his first college season.

"Coach Wilson used to say during my freshman year that it's better to say 'whoa' than 'sic em'" Jefferson shared. "It's good to have him anxious. Kobe Jones is the same way. It's really both of them. I think it's great, especially for them being young guys. It will only get better. They want to learn more everyday.

"When I was a freshman, I can't say I was like them. It was a rough transition for me. I feel like every year we always had a great strength staff and I feel like they always brought guys in to help us get accustomed to it. Looking back at my freshman year, they are way ahead of me.

"I think it's a great thing. The faster that we can get them ready, the easier it will be for the older guys like me, Nelson and them. We can't play 30 snaps a game and still do that through the whole entire season. Having guys like them ready to play can help us and like relieve us. It will save our bodies. The schedule is going to be tough, so ultimately that can help us out."

Jefferson and the rest of the Bulldogs will host South Alabama on Saturday September 3rd. Make plans to attend. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 A.M.

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