Looking to learn more about American football I was extremely fortunate to meet another Longhorns team player Malik Jefferson. This ambitious young gentleman is ranked as the No. 13 player nationally and the No. 1 linebacker in the state of Texas, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Despite his big success at such a young age and a lot of attention from fans and media, Malik stays grounded and works very hard to record new achievements. Here is our conversation about the challenges faced by the athlete and about what it takes to be successful in American football and in life.
The goal of the linebacker is to provide either extra run protection or extra pass protection. The linebackers are usually the ones that make the tackle. They have to have a great understanding of football, ability to read plays very quickly and respond, communicate to the rest of the defense. They have to be athletic, strong, physical, and mentally tough.
Malik, you have got so many rewards and recognition at such a young age. What does help you to stay grounded and motivated?
It definitely helps that my peers are around me. My family would keep me grounded too. They know when I’m doing wrong and they address it. They have no shame to putting me back where I have to be. I grew up grounded so I really don’t know how to be big headed. If by any chance I do, it shows really bad and affects me. I don’t like it.
How did American football come into your life?
I used to play four sports: baseball, ran track, football and basketball. In high school I started getting scholarship offers to play American football and then things started to really show where I was going in life. So I just took this plan and ran off with it in life.
What do you like about this sport?
I think I like the lessons it teaches me. I learned to become a better leader, I learned to work with people better. It is hard sometimes to be one of the bosses on the field of your own peers, and you don’t realize how much power you have until you actually experience it. So this year I step up to be a leader and my peers have accepted me in this role and it is gonna help me in the future when I have to go in the real world and be a leader in my actual job.
Why did you choose a linebacker role in the team?
I like to be the commander in chief in the field, and I like to make things going my direction. A hard part is that you have a lot of responsibilities – you need to play, run and pass, so it’s a little more difficult but it’s fun at the same time. You have to be the dirtiest person on the field 🙂
American football is a dangerous sport mainly because of concussions. Doesn’t it stop you?
It doesn’t stop me. I know what I am risking but I just need to take care of my body every week.
Are you afraid of hurting others?
I am afraid of hurting others to an extent of a head injury that affects the whole life. I think things happen on a football field that you can’t control but people don’t do it intentionally. Some people may, but I’m not one of those players. I am good at my job and I try to make sure everybody is safe. I don’t want to ruin anybody’s life.
How do you feel about not being paid for the value you are creating to the University of Texas?
It is very frustrating. We do our jobs for four hours a day and on top we have school and sometimes extra work. And to know that they are making millions of dollars every next game but we don’t see a dime of that, is very frustrating. A lot of guys don’t go to school for school, they go just to play football aiming to get to the NFL and build their sport career. But they can get hurt and their careers will be totally over. And we don’t get any extra benefits for the risk we take. So it is definitely frustrating.
What is your motivation then?
If you show the people what a football player you are and especially who you are as a person, this will pay off eventually. People will come back to you with offers, and if you ever need anything in life they will help you. Plus, we don’t need to pay for education.
Do you get enough time for studies to pursue your degree in corporate communications?
Right now football is kinda the main focus but I still manage to focus on school as well. I normally get time to study in the morning or in the afternoon or at night if I have to. Overall I like my schedule. I think it works out very well, better than I did last year.
What is a usual day of a college football player?
We get 24 hours a week of football practice, so 4 hours a day. It can range from anything to be in the morning to at nine in the evening. It’s frustrating sometimes but you just have to do it cause football comes first and everything else falls in its place. You need to make your schedule of everything else you do throughout the day around football.
What do you feel being there in the field when so many fans are watching you?
When you are on the field you don’t really hear the crowd. It’s crazy. You are so focused on what you are doing that you don’t notice what’s going on.
Of course you can feel energy, you feel everybody is with you and it makes a difference whenever you are out there playing. You are the one who make the crowd sound. If you do that it means you are doing a good job.
What is going on in your head just before the game?
I try to imagine myself when I’m doing the game. I try to picture everything in my head and then go and do it. You are always nervous because it is something big, but I just try to enjoy it. I stop being nervous after the first play, then everything is OK.
How difficult is it to handle defeats?
We all gonna win and lose in life. I think the time we lose is the learning time. You have to go back and see if you did everything you were supposed to do. In football aspect it is a lot different than in real life cause you gonna lose on a schoolboard. But we can take that into life and transform into something that we can do forever and ever. It can be applied especially in the new job aspect where you can’t give up. You just can’t quit one day, you always gotta make some money.
What qualities do successful players have?
Definitely need to be humble. You can’t think too big of yourself. It has to be a person who looks back in the mirror when anything goes wrong and be the first person to point figure at himself than on somebody else. I think this is very big when you are in a team like ours because there are a lot of good players, everybody is good. If nobody points figure back at themselves and tries to figure out where the problem is then we will never get better.
Another thing – you need to be able to work with everybody. If you can’t work with people around, you are not a team player.
And you need to be responsible because every mistake you make affects everybody.
What did make you successful?
I always try to look at myself before anything else.
What is your professional goal?
I wanna use my sports career to set up my future goals, to give back to my community. I want to open a sports related business and mentor children dealing with issues in houses or those who don’t have the best opportunities because from where they are from. If I do anything with sports I wanna work with kids and be an athlete. I love giving back. That’s what I have been always standing for.
What is your goal in life?
I want to change lives. I try to remind in everyday life that it is important how you treat people. I am trying to get this message out by showing on social media how things go, showing up on certain events and talking to people, I never turned down a picture unless it is in some really uncomfortable environment. I don’t mind doing a favor to anybody. I just want to show people that we can all be great humans in this world. With all issues going on in this country we should live in peace and harmony and all work together. And I’ll never say I am proud of myself until the day I die.