Impactus’ Resident Sports Writer Carter Brooks sat down virtually with Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat for an all-encompassing conversation on his walk with Christ as a professional athlete.
The 31-year-old two-time Grey Cup champion spoke openly of his faith journey, his role as one of the Bombers’ chapel leaders and his professional football career while touching on life as the son of Jim Jeffcoat – a back-to-back Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys.
After getting his start within the National Football League, the second generation football star moved north to Canada, where he joined the Bombers and served as a key defensive piece in Winnipeg’s Grey Cup winning roster. In hopes of pursuing a third-straight title, Jeffcoat signed on for another year with the Blue Bombers in early January of 2022.
Where did your faith journey begin? Was it something you were born into or was it something you found on your own?
“With my faith, yes, I was born into it. With my parents, I attended a Baptist church called Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. I went to a private Christian school until about sixth grade. I think most people can kind of agree with this, but I think faith kind of goes up and down in waves. So I left the private Christian school and went to a public high school and a lot of things started testing my faith. ”Is this what I really believe?” Things like that. Things went up and down. But when I got to college, I met some really great guys that helped me get back to it. I had teammates, and friends in the church who made me think, “Yes, this is what I believe in,” and they showed me which things are real, which are tangible and what I can actually really see in my life. That was important to me.”
Would it be fair to say that your time in college helped shape who you are today?
“I had some things happen in college and with the NFL that now looking back, and it was like, “why were you so worried? Why did you make that such a priority?” So my faith again was not as great as it could be. I was like, “Why would you put me here God? Why would you do this to me? Do you really love me?” This was a dream that I worked on my whole life to make it to the NFL. And then to go undrafted after having a great college career, so I was a little up and down, not knowing what I wanted to do. So then I get here with a great group of guys up here in Canada. I was able to really come into my own with my faith and make it mine. Not my parents that gave it to me or introduced it to me, but made it my faith. This year I was one of the chapel leaders of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with our chaplain Lorne Korol, which was a huge honour. Just to work with Lorne was a huge honour. But I was also working with Kyrie Wilson and Brandon Alexander as the three chapel leaders.”
You mentioned that you really made your faith yours. What do you mean by that?
“I think a lot of people are born into it, for the most part. They are given it by their parents and they try to listen to what their parents say. But as they get older, they can make those choices on their own. So I made the choice to go to church. I made the choice to read the Bible. I made the choice to discover what I really believe.”
You were almost born into football as much as you were born into your faith. Is that a fair statement?
“I grew up watching a lot of football. I watched my dad play a lot. But he actually didn’t want me to play until I was a ninth-grader. But we had to beg him to let me play in sixth grade. I was with going to school with a bunch of buddies on a team and they really wanted me on it.”
Now you’ve got an interception off of Tony Romo listed on your resume.
“I’ve got a pick off Tony Romo and I’ve got a sack on Mark Sanchez. I got to do some things in the NFL that people would never be able to do. Most people don’t even have a sniff at that. So I got my start in the NFL. That’s a blessing in itself. Now it’s hard to see that when you’re comparing myself to my father. It’s hard to beat my father, who played 15 years, won back-to-back Super Bowls and was a force who people still know to this day.”
Do you find yourself sometimes living in the shadow of your father?
“That’s a hard question to answer. The way my dad and I talk, it never felt like it was a shadow, but rather my own path. I always felt like I was competing with him because I always wanted to be better. So if there was a shadow or anything like that, it wasn’t necessarily from what everyone else was putting on me, but rather what I put on myself.”
I know you’ve had experiences with the Seahawks, Redskins, Browns and even recently with the Bengals, but now with the Bombers you’ve made a home in Winnipeg and won two Grey Cups. Are you still thinking of NFL ball, or is the CFL where you want to be?
“I’ll be honest where I’m at now. What I wanted from the NFL, what I cared about and why I wanted to play in the NFL, I’m happy that didn’t work. The only thing I really thought of was making good money there. Like that was the thing I think about, “oh man, I missed out on this money in the NFL” I don’t say, “Oh I missed out on the experience and being great in the NFL”. So I’m thankful that I didn’t play in the NFL that long. It’s been better for me in the CFL because it’s been more of my grind time. I’ve been in the trenches and really been able to figure out who I am, my faith and what I believe in and why do I have my faith.”
I’m sure some of those questions are things you typically deal with in your chapel group. Are you willing to share a little bit of what a chapel leader does on daily basis?
“For sure. So as chapel leaders, we are the branch between Lorne and the team. So he will relay a message to us and we try to get it spread out throughout the team as quickly and easily as possible. It is important for everyone to know when chapel is, and know that they have Lorne who can pray for them and that they have a group of brothers who are there for them. We are really just a branch that helps connect them to everything. During this COVID year, while we were playing, Lorne wasn’t allowed in our Tier I bubble. So I would have to lead the prayer after the game between us and the other team, I’d lead the prayer before the game in the showers or weight room at home and that was my role in this all.”
Did you enjoy this advanced responsibility the past year?
“I did, because it took me out of my comfort zone. Lorne is great, he has some great prayers and I love it. But I was able to say my own prayer. I was a little nervous about it, but it really doesn’t matter. Like why would that matter? I’m not praying for my own glory, I’m praying for the health of my brothers and speaking to the Lord. I don’t want to be known as the greatest prayer, but I want to be known as someone who can say an effective prayer.”
I know lots of Bombers fans here think their prayers have been answered with back-to-back Grey Cups. What was it like seeing the full commitment from your teammates this past year?
“It was sweet. We might have had some of the most people that ever have come to chapel this year. It was one of the biggest groups of all, it was amazing. We were a close, tight-knit group of guys. We enjoyed our times, but with the pandemic, we had more chances of being together and less time for guys to go off and do their own thing. So we really got to know each other better and got to like each other a lot more. A guy on the other side of the ball, Rasheed Bailey, the receiver, he and I got super close. We both had this passion for Christ and for playing ball. His comes out a different way than mine does, but when he speaks a certain way with his passion and heart, you can’t do anything but feel it. It energizes you. I was drawn to it. He’s a special person and was special in my life.”
How important is it to you to see some of these prayers pan out – Not just winning football games, but prayers relating to those important people in your life.
“It’s big for me. Not everything that happens seems to be at the right time, per se. Sometimes you are going through the valley. As Lorne would say, when you’re on the mountaintop, there is no vegetation up there. There’s nothing growing, there’s no growth. You’re not able to cultivate anything up there. You’ve made it to the top and you’re excited. You don’t make your growth for the Lord. But when you’re in the valley, that’s where all the trees are, that’s where the grass is. That is where you can make fruit and vegetables, where you can find food. That is where you really see your growth to make a climb.”
So what would you say to someone who says that you might be near the top of the mountain now as a two-time Grey Cup champion? What does the future hold for Jackson Jeffcoat?
“I’m definitely coming back to play another year. I’m 31 years old. My years might be numbered. I’m closer to the end of my career than I am the beginning. I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out, but I love being a Bomber. I’m happy to keep playing for the Bombers. I do still have a goal on the football field of what I want to accomplish and who I want to be. I think it’s been awesome being able to win two back-to-back Grey Cups. That’s one thing that my dad is extremely proud of. He was like, “I don’t care if you do it in the NFL, in the CFL or wherever you do it. Winning back to back championships is a hard thing to do.”