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March 8, 2012
Jefferson waking up to the reality of stardom
Tony Jefferson is ready to lead.
Heading into his junior season, Jefferson has been a starter for Oklahoma since he arrived in Norman from Chula Vista, Calif.
He's also been a key cog in the Cali Trio, a group that includes teammates Kenny Stills and Brennan Clay. The trio has already carved out its place in the anecdotal history books of Sooner football.
The Cali Trio has been OU football's version of a reality show.
Because they have made themselves so available to the public through social media, fans have gotten to know what makes each of these players tick.
Anyone who follows members of the trio on Twitter knows what "swag" means and who has it. We've found out all about "bops" from Jefferson these last few months.
Some fans have used Twitter to fight with the Cali Trio after tough losses. Others spend their time begging for retweets.
To this day, Jefferson has been unsuccessful in getting a retweet from Justin Bieber even though he spent his entire sophomore year begging for one.
In an age when official channels have squeezed off more and more access, Jefferson and his California teammates have become more available, and more visible, than players of the recent past.
Try and imagine what it would have been like had Adrian Peterson or Sam Bradford been active Twitter participants in their day.
Now you know the appeal.
But for all the fun the trio has had being the social media reality stars they have become, the clock is beginning to tick.
Reality is fighting back.
"When we got our schedule and it said, 'Classification: Junior', it just kind of hit you," explained Jefferson. "Three years have gone by fast."
Jefferson is realizing his fun-loving inner circle of Californians are no longer the followers, they've become the leaders.
"Coach is looking for me to lead and the guys are looking up to me, so it's only right for me to step in and try and be a leader here," said Jefferson. "This is my third spring and I know what it's like and I know the things we need to fix. We all have the same goal. It's going to take good leadership for us to get over the hump that we've had."
Sitting in the Red Room with Jefferson the other day, an interesting thing happened which had never happened before.
R.J. Washington's helmet was sitting on the floor while he was being interviewed. It's one of those helmets with the New York Giants defensive linemen facemasks. The thing looks imposing just sitting on the ground.
I asked Jefferson, "What do you think of those facemasks?"
"That's the (Justin) Tuck facemask," responded Jefferson. "Chuka (Ndulue) and R.J. got 'em - and Torrea (Peterson).
"They look nasty but you've got to be a nasty player. I try to tell them that they shouldn't wear them until you earn it. You've got to earn that facemask. That's not just a facemask you put on. It's pretty."
Jefferson is famous in OU Twitter circles for the phrase, 'I'm about whatever'. But he wasn't about whatever when it came to those facemasks.
He was calculated. He was thoughtful.
He was leading.
"I've seen the leaders before me and this is my third spring football so I know what it takes and I feel I can be a leader on this team," said Jefferson.
So what about that fun loving guy that is about whatever? Isn't this leadership going to weigh him down a little bit?
"It's not a weight. It's the right thing to do," he said. "It should be the norm for us, now that we're older."
If Jefferson needed another reminder about how much things have changed, he has Taylor McNamara.
McNamara is a freshmen tight end from San Diego. He came to Oklahoma in large part because of the trio, who were instrumental in helping to recruit him to Norman.
McNamara has enrolled early, just as Jefferson did three years ago.
Jefferson sees all the same things he went through back then watching McNamara now.
"He's just like I was. He gets homesick a lot, just like I was when I first got here. He's dying to go home for spring break," Jefferson said. "If we had that, it would have been a lot easier. I feel like he could look at us and he knows we made it through and he can too.
"We tell him it's rough at first and you're far away from home and you're from a city like San Diego and it's a lot different. He's coming along."
But don't mistake Jefferson for a completely changed man. He's still about whatever.
Just a little bit.
"(McNamara's) talking to some girls a little bit," Jefferson laughed. "We're getting him to move around but he's shy."
The reality show isn't ending for Jefferson. But it is starting to mature, just like the Cali Trio.
"We've matured since we got here," said Jefferson. "That's a good thing for us and I just feel like me and Kenny, we need to step up and do what we've got to do."