When Tony Jefferson’s name comes up, the word “underrated” often does, too. At 5-foot-11, 213 pounds, the Oklahoma safety may be on the shorter side for most NFL team standards, but according to his coaches, the California native isn’t short on talent, versatility, or drive. After the 2013 Combine, and a visit to Athletes’ Performance San Diego’s new training grounds at SKLZ Headquarters, Greatist’s fitness editor caught up with Jefferson on the eve of the NFL Draft to talk hard work, eating right (minus the occasional California burrito, of course), and why it never hurts to do a few curls for the girls.
So you’re one day away from the NFL Draft. What’s going through your head?
Right now I’m getting about 10 calls a day from every team, asking if this is my correct number for draft day. And some tell me they really want me on their team. It’s pretty stressful not knowing where you’re going or what round, and where you’re going to be starting your professional career. But at the same time you’re living your dream and I’m enjoying it.
At Athletes’ Performance you said you wouldn’t mind being back in sunny San Diego. Is that what you’re hoping for come Thursday?
I’ll be happy playing anywhere, but being from San Diego, you kind of want to play for your home team and the fans who’ve been supporting you since high school and followed you all through college.
Your father was an Olympic boxer. Did you ever consider following in his footsteps?
Yeah I actually boxed for a while. In 7th and 8th grade I trained with his old boxing coach. It got me in the best shape I’d ever been in at a young age … But boxing shape and football shape are totally different. Boxing requires a lot more stamina. It’s a lot more mental also — having the reflexes and quick feet. Once you’re flat footed it could end up badly for you.
So what was it about football that eventually drew you in?
Honestly, just being able to hit people. I chose boxing and football for that reason. But there’s a lot more to it: The preparation, the film, the practices, the training, the weights. I [gravitate] toward that type of stuff.
Tell me a little more about what Combine Training was like.
Training was tough sometimes. I was up at 6 am every morning. They’d serve us breakfast, which wasn’t always very tasty. We’d get egg whites … sometimes oatmeal that had absolutely no flavor. But it was good for us, and it got my body fat down to where it needed to be … The hardest part, for me, was that there’d be days when we’d work out three times a day, and that was day after day. So there were times your body felt a little beat down, but it was really the mental stuff that was the toughest.
In those moments, what helped you through?
Getting back to what your goals are, and what you’re trying to pursue. Mainly it was just mental. Trying to remember that this is all worth it. And luckily, you’re surrounded by guys who are also motivated and ready to work. Before you knew it, the Combine was all over, and we got through it.
Three-a-days aside, what’s your favorite type of workout?
A beach workout. Curls for the girls, that kind of stuff.
I’m from New York, sorry, I lost you at beach workout.
Ahhh [laughs]. It’s just a reference to an upper body workout. Chest, shoulders, biceps, all of that.
Ha, gotcha. And what about cross training?
Even this off-season I went back to boxing. I did a bunch of different boxing workouts for about three weeks, just to get my cardio up and get my shoulder blades moving.
Oh, I’ve tried yoga and it’s way harder than I thought. I expected it to be just stretching, but it’s a lot more difficult. It definitely loosens up the hips.
Is there any one part of your game you’re specifically focusing on in preparation for the NFL?
Yeah, I realize I need to continue to work on my technique, as far as staying low in my back pedal. When I get to a team I know they’re going to stress on that and I’m going to be able to work on it more — I’m even working on it now. It’ll come down to working on technique and staying true to my position.
And what about your diet right now?
I’m at a pretty good weight, so I’m just trying to maintain. At Athletes’ Performance we go by something called 80/20. So that’s 80 percent healthy foods, and 20 percent unhealthier snacks. I usually stick to pasta, chicken, and I don’t really get too crazy with that 20 percent. It’s tempting sometimes, but I try to watch what I eat and have as much color on my plate as possible in terms of vegetables, carrots, that type of stuff.
So when you do have your cheat meal, what’s your go-to?
I love Mexican food. A good California burrito. There’s a place right down by the border where I live, called Tacos el Gordo, and it’s the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. I’ve had to literally stop myself from turning around when I’m on my way there because it’s so high in calories, but so good.
Wherever you end up — what’s the one thing you hope for?
Just to get the opportunity wherever I go to be able to come in and have an immediate impact. To learn from veterans. It’s a new phase for me. It’s not college anymore where you’ve got people to slap your hand if you do something wrong. It’s a business. I just want to go somewhere where I can feel comfortable and feel positive about what I’m doing.
And will you be heartbroken if your former teammates end up across the country from you? It’s clear you guys became really close during your years together at Oklahoma.
Yeah, I think about that all the time. I hope I get teamed up with at least one of my teammates, but I wish the best of luck to them wherever they go. I honestly don’t think you could find a more close-knit group than our team at Oklahoma. Everyone from the walk-ons to the star players on the team … there were times when literally our whole team would show up places together. We were like a family, like brothers. Hopefully I end up with a few of those guys.
I imagine it’ll be a very different scene than what you’re used to on campus.
In Oklahoma where they have no NFL team, everybody grows up Sooner fans. That’s why when you play it’s more than just playing for you; you’re playing for those die-hard, Sooner-born fans. They’re dedicated; they’re with you through the good and the bad. At every game, even if we were playing a Division Eight school, even if the score was 75-0, there are still 86,000 people there cheering you on.
If football were out of the picture, what would you be doing instead?
Some type of acting. I love being in front of the camera. I’ve got some jokes. I’m not shy at all.
The 2013 NFL Draft will air live on ESPN and NFL Network on Thursday, April 25 (8 pm ET), Friday, April 26 (6:30 pm ET), and Saturday, April 27 (12 pm ET).