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AUSTIN — Long periods of personal reflection tend to come after disappointing outcomes. For junior linebacker Malik Jefferson, this offseason was one of those times.
However, Jefferson did not have all the time in the world to reflect, as new head coach Tom Herman came to Texas with standing orders to return the Longhorns to prominence. In order to do that, he needed to have conversations with his junior linebacker to discuss how to turn Jefferson into a star linebacker.
“We had a pretty long conversations,” Jefferson said. “I enjoyed every second of it. I understood where he was coming from. He understood where I was coming from as well. Now, I’m executing and trying to make plays and become a better player.”
Following his discussion with Herman, which the head coach has said included Jefferson asking to be taken out of the spotlight to focus on football, Jefferson made major strides in strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight’s offseason program, not only physically but mentally.
“It was a great offseason,” Jefferson said. “Going in there every day in the morning, running, then coming back and lifting weights, especially on leg day was very challenging. He has completely changed the culture of these guys and completely changed me as well. I’m more versatile. I can move a lot better. I feel a lot better.”
Jefferson’s noticed a change, too. When asked what changed about his body the most, Jefferson quickly responded “legs,” and later noted he is now squatting more weight than his bench press.
The culture change, however, was a necessary growing pain in order to get the team away from previous unsuccessful coaching methodologies. Those growing pains have now created a team culture that most team members take the time to mention when available to the media.
“It’s been tough every year you say you’re excited,” Jefferson said. “You see the culture and everything’s changing. Every little thing is detailed. Guys understand that it’s so important that we emphasize that culture to everyone on the team.”
In Jefferson’s mind, the offseason changes have put the Longhorns in a good position entering this season to win more than five games.
“We’re more attentive, more focused, and we’re brothers actually,” Jefferson said. “The play will show up on the field on Saturdays, and I’m very excited to see that, but this is the part where teams are built.”
In his role as a team leader, Jefferson is charged with leading other members of the linebacker corps to successful seasons. These players include fellow juniors Gary Johnson, Edwin Freeman, Breckyn Hager and Anthony Wheeler.
Not only is Jefferson trying to lead his position mates, but the competition is also helping them get to where they want to be.
“We’re just trying to push each other every day, on and off the field, making sure that in the film room we’re all paying attention, that guys are attentive, and when we go out there on the field we play physical and fast and run to the ball,” Jefferson said. “We’re older, so we know the game. We’re more instinctive, so now a lot of it is just going out there and playing hard.”
Though focused on team matters, Jefferson was asked about being on watchlists for several postseason awards, including the Butkus and Nagurski. The praise is flattering, but Jefferson’s mind is on playing at an award winning level, not an award watchlist level.
“I feel like I can,” Jefferson said on if his play could win awards. “That’s one thing that kind of irritates me. I look at all that stuff, and I know that they’re watchlists and stuff, moving forward I want to be able to show that I am those type of players and moving forward it’s something I definitely want to do.”