Redskins linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat was a star in the amateur basketball circuit, leading his Texas squad to three national titles.
Jackson Jeffcoat had this dream ever since he was in grade school.
A countdown of the Top 10 images of Redskins linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat during the 2014 season.
No, it wasn't to play in the NFL like his father had. It was actually walking in his older brother, Jaren Jeffcoat's, basketball shoes. And Jackson wanted to take it a step further: he wanted to someday make it to the NBA.
Jeffcoat pursued his dream early by lacing up his own sneakers next to his brother's. He played on his brother's team against the "big kids," who were usually four grade levels older than him.
But it didn't matter to Jeffcoat, as long as he had his greatest supporter: his older brother, Jaren, who was in the bleachers for all of Jackson's games.
Eventually Jeffcoat, now an outside linebacker for the Washington Redskins, transitioned into a star in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball before shifting his focus to football in high school.
But before throwing on the pads and helmet, Jeffcoat certainly made his mark on the amateur basketball circuit, winning three national titles along the way.
Setting the foundation
Jim Miller was the head coach TG ("Thank God") Express basketball — or as he simply called them, a dynasty.
He reminisced about the days in Texas when he could watch a couple of his small-bodied guards "shoot the crap out of the ball," and the moments when his big kids handled themselves in the paint like grown men. Jeffcoat was the latter.
Miller jogged his memory even further. When his son was in the third grade, he played Jeffcoat in a few games. A year later Miller and his son, the point guard for the team, lost by one point to the AAU's defending national champions in the quarterfinals.
He didn't have a crystal ball to see that the loss would be the beginning of a series of teams that beat its opponents by an average margin of 37 points. Like the team's nickname implies, it was all sort of a blessing.
Jeffcoat officially joined the team as a fifth grader in the fall of 2002 when his former coach hopped ship to TG. Miller said recruiting Jeffcoat changed his career.
Thousands packed into the small-scale gymnasiums in Dallas to see him play — like sardines in a can. Miller said it was just uncanny for kids his age to be that big, and contrary to Jeffcoat's mellow personality now, he always played with a chip on his shoulder.
Fans wanted to see him; TG's opponents would've rather seen him on the bench.
"He's had an appetite for leading more than you'd normally see in a kid that age," Miller told Redskins.com. "Eventually, that standard he had goes through the whole team for years."
In the 2003 season, the team moved on to Nationals in Cocoa Beach, Fla. TG won its first championship in the 11-and-under bracket by a 10-point margin. In 2004, the same outcome, but by three points in Virginia Beach, Va.
The 'glory days'
"Now let me tell you a famous Jackson Jeffcoat story," Miller said about the 2004 season, his voice projecting louder with each word.
In the final four of the national tournament, TG's 10-point lead shrank to only one point with 12 seconds left in the game. Miller directed his team to inbound the ball to Jeffcoat, who would call a timeout at the half-court line. He did.
Miller intended for Jeffcoat to get the last shot of the game. The plan was foiled when one of the guards wanted to be a hero instead. The ball was blocked out of bounds.
Four seconds left.
Miller drew up a play for Jeffcoat. "Four-cross" – in which there are four players along opposite sides of the post – enabled Jeffcoat to fake setting a screen to shed defenders for a clear shot at the basket. His teammate lasered in a pass that split the two defenders. Jeffcoat cross-steps and sinks the shot. And-one. Game over.
"He put the team on his back," Miller said. "We were not supposed to win that game."
The point margin was diminishing, but the team's winning mentality was inversely rising.
"I don't care how they play, but as long as we play to the best of our ability, it's OK," Miller said. "And if we lose, we played our best. But our bad days, we're 40 points better than everyone else."
The 40-point margin was paralleled with each game in TG's seventh-grade season. But Jeffcoat's eighth-grade season was when TG was dethroned. The team was runner-up in Nationals, and Miller said he believed other coaches catered their teams around knocking off the defending champions. It worked.
Moving on from the "down" season, Jeffcoat's ninth-grade season was defined by an idiom established when he was a small kid and laced up alongside Jaren against those who were older than him.
Sure enough, "what goes around, comes around" came to fruition when TG opted to play in the 17-and-under class as 15 year olds.
"There's a statement that says, 'It's us against the world,' right?" Miller asked. "Well these guys really believed it was them against the world. They really believed that. And they played like they played for each other more than they played for anybody else."
This year – capping off the dynasty – TG placed second in regionals. Miller said the five-year run was so "crazy" to him; surreal even. He awed over the team even making the championship game with a bunch of freshman. Specifically for Jeffcoat, he looked at the timeline since joining the team four years prior.
Miller, with more than 30 years under his belt, looked at the bigger picture. He said Jeffcoat was the best story he'd ever seen.
"Mama didn't play with that boy, now. 'You better listen to your coach' [she said]," Miller said, recalling the start of it all. "Yeah, Jackson was special to me. And today, he's still special to me."
Transitioning to football
Seemingly so, Jeffcoat – a top-ranked basketball prospect – may have found his niche.
Contrary to his coach's compliments about his physical presence on the court, Jeffcoat did not think he would grow tall enough to be a competitor in the NBA. Yes, he had the 39-inch vertical and the size to match, but it was more of a football size.
"Sophomore year when I started getting offers for football, I was like, 'Man, I don't think I'm going to grow to be 6-7, 6-8 like they thought I was going to be,'" Jeffcoat said. "I think I had a better body for football."
Sophomore year marked Jeffcoat's final AAU days. Miller had taken the year off, and Jeffcoat played for another team.
And even though he was increasingly stepping in the direction of his father's footsteps, Jeffcoat still held onto his childhood dream by his fingertips.
"I was like, 'Man, I think I can play in the league,'" Jeffcoat said. "Work on my handles and the jump shot will come once I stop lifting heavy for football. I still thought I was going to play in the NBA, and that was a goal of mine. In college I thought I was going to play there as well."
When Jeffcoat packed on weight for football, his vertical measurements dropped slightly. And as a developing young player at Plano West (Texas) High School, he was less than a threat at linebacker. He just could not grasp the concept of coverage.
He was later moved to defensive end as a pass rusher. He said he flourished in that role.
But looking back, he wouldn't have done it differently. Jeffcoat wishes he could have stayed as an outside linebacker for development's sake. Plus, to him it was kind of like pursuing his first love, too. He not only used his high vertical for dunking – his first throw down came in the seventh grade – but also for blocking field goals and batting down passes.
Not to mention, coverage became easier when he started visualizing himself mirroring a basketball player down the court.
"It's more like basketball," Jeffcoat said, comparing linebacker to defensive end. "So after a while they played me for some linebacker stuff, some packages in high school. I think I was able to use my basketball skills doing that. And I did the same thing in college."
Jeffcoat had been tempted to rekindle his NBA aspirations; when he got to Texas, the school's head basketball coach, Rick Barnes, constantly encouraged Jeffcoat to take the bait and join the squad.
But he didn't. He knew he was in the right sport, now.
And that's all right in Miller's book. To him, basketball didn't just open a few doors for Jeffcoat athletically, but helped him develop into the man he is today. It's something for Miller to get excited about whenever they talk.
The coach had a courtside seat to see Jeffcoat's maturation from a tempered preteen to a mature young man.
"And I usually told them when they were young, 'I don't want you just to be an average man. I want you to be a great man,'" Miller said, on the brink of emotion. "I would tell them, 'Basketball will pass, but you being great as a man will be a whole different ballgame.'"