By Cody Soto
Freshman running back Johnny Jefferson said the hardest thing about joining the Baylor football team was waiting his time to play in a Division I game.
“I was very frustrated at first last year because I wanted to come in and play,” Jefferson said. “But all good players have to wait their time. Taking a year off and watching [former players] Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk really helped me because I can see the hole now and be patient. Taking a year off was the best decision of my life.”
After redshirting in 2013, Jefferson made his debut in front of over 45,000 fans in the inaugural game at McLane Stadium.
“First time I got in the game I thought ‘man, this is finally real. This is something that I’ve been waiting all last year for,’’ Jefferson said. “I had nerves running through me. The moment was real.”
In the Bears’ 45-0 shutout over the Mustangs, Jefferson ran 57 yards on 12 carries, finishing just behind senior running back Shock Linwood with 80 yards on 16 carries. Jefferson averaged 4.8 yards in his first game as a Bear.
Jefferson received more playing time in the second half, which Jefferson said allowed him to settle in after feeling different in the beginning, he said.
“Once I started to calm my nerves, I started to get into a rhythm and I started feeling like I was in high school again,” Jefferson said. “I just got to get out those nicks and bruises and I’ll be back with full force [next game].”
During his junior and senior years in high school, Jefferson had originally committed to play for Texas A&M and turned down offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, UCLA, TCU and UCLA. Jefferson changed his decision after attending Pro Day at Baylor and became the fourth commit for the 2013 recruit class.
An all-purpose runner for Shoemaker High School, Jefferson received 5A All-State recognition his senior year after rushing for 1,597 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also earned a gold medal as anchor of the 2013 5A state champion 4×200 relay team, before committing to bring his quickness to the Baylor offense.
Jefferson posted 4.41 seconds on the 40-yard dash during spring practice, the fastest time of the entire team.
“Johnny is a little bigger than Shock, and he is just a freak athlete,” senior offensive tackle Troy Baker said. “People will be talking about him, especially in a few years.”
With Jefferson in the backfield, he will contribute quickness and athleticism alongside Linwood and sophomore running back Devin Chafin for the 2014 season.
“With Shock, Devin, and Johnny, it’s like a three-headed monster,” Baker said. “When they get out into the open field, you can’t touch them. We all know what we are going to get from those three and it’s exciting to see.”
Baylor led the country with 52.4 points per game last season and set an NCAA record for scoring 681 points in 13 games, but head coach Art Briles said he can see Jefferson bringing more power to the top offense in the country.
“We really trust his ability and the spark he can bring. He is a fluid guy that has real good balance,” Briles said. “If we’re not faster than what we were last year, then I’m going to be disappointed because [the running backs] are really good.”
Jefferson said his performance in the first half had some kinks in it, but he kept reminding himself of the reason why he plays football.
“In the second half, I kept thinking, ‘Just play football; this is the game I love,’ so it started getting easier,” Jefferson said. “I started slowing down a little bit and everything started developing more.”
Jefferson said the experience he gained in Sunday’s game has helped him learn for Saturday’s matchup against Northwestern State.
“Seeing that the defensive guys can run too, now I know that I have to hit my second gear right away and I can’t wait,” Jefferson said.
Although he sat out his first year, Jefferson used encouragement from his father to lift himself up. Jefferson’s father was tweeting from Iraq during Baylor’s spring game while he was stationed there with the Army.
“My dad hasn’t really seen me play a lot of football, but he picks me up when I’m feeling down and tells me to keep trying,” Jefferson said. “When I had to sit out, he encouraged me and told me God has everything happen for a reason.”
With what he learned from watching from the sidelines last year, Jefferson brings a new perspective and skills to his game this season.
“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from these guys is poise,” Jefferson said. “You might have a negative play, but once that play is over, clear it, because the next play you could go for 15 yards. I had a couple of negative plays, but I just kept reminding myself that the play is over so I could focus on the next play and do better.”