Tony Jefferson dons the No. 1 jersey for the Oklahoma Sooners and it's quite fitting considering his ever developing role. The junior is set to make 2012 his most successful in Norman yet and his emergence as a leader is sure to be cemented along the way.
His road to this point has not been void of mistakes and road bumps, but Jefferson has never let those indiscretions become anything but minor incidents.
Jefferson is key for the 2012 Sooners' defense which is in desperate need of improved play on the back end and his increasing role as a leader will allow him a hand in the direction of the entire team.
Here's a deeper a look into why this player is one that must continue stepping into the shoes of vocal leader for his team.
From the get-go Jefferson earned All-American honors on the Sooners' defense as a freshman in 2010. He was also named Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, posting 65 tackles, seven passes defended, two sacks, a fumble recovery, two interceptions and a touchdown return.
Jefferson wasted no time getting to business in Oklahoma and it's a habit he's had for awhile. As a freshman in high school, Jefferson was promoted to Varsity for the playoffs and he never looked back.
By the time he reached Norman, Rivals.com had Jefferson pegged as the No. 4 cornerback in the entire 2010 class.
The Sooners experienced a mass exodus of proven leadership when their 2011 class of seniors vacated. The void left by Travis Lewis and others is sure to be felt, but Jefferson has high hopes of minimizing it.
"Before, we would be watching to see how it is to lead," Jefferson said of himself and—[Kenny] Stills' evolving roles. "Now we are in the spotlight to lead. It's up to us how we handle things. We have to continue to do the right things, not just on the field but everywhere else." (Via ESPN.com)
Jefferson and Stills have come a long way from their days as freshmen when the two were booked for alcohol related charges following the same incident. Both players have been quite productive on the field and offer valuable experience to younger players whom they hope avoid all contact with the law.
Oklahoma has certainly seen worse endings to their season than an appearance and victory in the Insight Bowl, but the win nevertheless left a lot to be desired. Jefferson himself knows his team could have done better and he expects as much moving forward.
"Being in the Insight Bowl, being with my teammates and knowing the potential we have, the athletic ability we have, [it] goes way beyond where we were at," Jefferson said. "So I felt it's upon me to step up and be a better leader and better teammate." (Per ESPN.com)
The 20-year-old is embracing his role as a developing leader as he continues to build one heck of a resume entering his junior year.
Even though he's a bit of hybrid, Jefferson has received recognition with preseason placement on the Jim Thorpe watch list. The award, which is presented to the nation's best defensive back, was most recently given to Morris Claiborne who went on to be selected sixth overall in the NFL draft.
Last year, Jefferson led the Sooners with 74 tackles and four interceptions, cementing himself as a dual threat behind the line and in coverage. While his permanent position moving forward is a little hazy his prospects certainly are not. No matter where he's playing and lining up he'll be a force to be reckoned with and accounted for.
Jefferson has stepped up recently to take on more of a responsibility from the coaching staff in guiding their recruiting classes, understanding his role as a seasoned veteran.
"The guys look up to me," Jefferson said of sliding into the leadership role with relative ease. "As long as I'm doing the right thing, they're going to follow me in the right way."
He seems to accept the added responsibility with open arms.
"I want the coaches to feel like they can rely on me," Jefferson said. "For more than just recruiting, more than being good in the classroom ... for the team [as a leader] to bring us all together."
A large part of what makes Jefferson so valuable on the field for Oklahoma is his unique versatility. His combination of ball skills and sound tackling techniques makes him a legitimate defensive threat no matter where he lines up for the Sooner's defense.
At 5'11'' and 210 pounds he probably doesn't have much of a future at linebacker with regards to the NFL at least. But his ability and willingness to step into that position for the Sooners is what makes him a great example for the youngsters coming in behind him.