Titans assistant owes approach, career to MTSU's Stockstill

Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 11:46pm

Shawn Jefferson spun on his heels, hurried back through the front door and alerted his mother.

“Mom, there’s this white guy asleep in the driveway.”

What already figured to be a unique day during his senior year at William Raines High School in Jacksonville, Fla., suddenly was something altogether different.

“I grew up in one of these neighborhoods where white people didn’t really come around,” he said. “They really didn’t.”

What happened next changed everything.

Perhaps Jefferson should have expected it, though.

Months earlier, during the previous spring, he was involved in a track practice when that same white man, University of Central Florida wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill, showed up at William Raines during the afternoon’s extracurricular activities. From that day forward, Jefferson’s life took a turn.

Back in 1986, UCF was near the end of its eight years as an NCAA Division II program and had started to prepare for a transition to I-AA. That meant it needed different players. Bigger. Faster. More athletic.

One member of the track team immediately caught Stockstill’s eye.

“Who’s that?” he inquired.

The answer astonished him.

“He doesn’t play football, coach. He’s in the band,” Stockstill recalled.

In 2013, it probably is difficult for most to imagine that as a high school student Shawn Jefferson spent the majority of Friday nights in the fall as a member of the drum line and not crossing the goal line.

After all, his 13-year NFL career, which included stints with four teams, is the longest of any UCF product. He also was the first player from that school to be on a team that played in the Super Bowl (he was on two).

His final college season, 1990, ended in the I-AA semifinals and included one game in which he caught three passes for 135 yards.

Yet more than a quarter century ago, before any of that, Stockstill might have been the only one who imagined something different for Jefferson than to beat out a cadence inside football stadiums.

“I asked the track coach to call him over,” Stockstill said. “I introduced myself and told him, ‘If you play football this fall, I promise I’ll recruit you and you’ll have a scholarship to Central Florida.' ”

Said Jefferson: “He saw me running. I guess he said ‘This kid can run.’ Then, I remember there was a big emphasis on guys who could run, speed guys. I did have it.

“… I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I was lucky that I had some speed and I was ultra-competitive — that’s one thing I did have going for me. I was as competitive as all get out.”

Jefferson played well enough that fall that other recruiters actually took notice as well.

He turned down an offer from South Carolina simply because he felt he did not know the game well enough to play in Division I. Interest from Liberty University was another matter.

“I grew up in the church so Liberty University comes and it was like, ‘God is telling me you really need to come to Liberty University,’ ” he said. “I fell for it.”

A day before the signing period, he called Stockstill to say he planned to play at Liberty. “I was glad I got his answering machine,” Jefferson said.

Stockstill got the message and returned the call. Again. Again Again. And again. Each time no answer.

In those days, coaches were not permitted to speak to players before 8 a.m., but he decided not to let a moment go to waste.

“I drove up that night and spent the night in his apartment complex, which at that time was, and really still is one of the toughest projects in the Jacksonville area,” he said. “I just kind of camped out outside his apartment there. I think the only reason they didn’t mess with me is because they thought I was a policeman.”

It was shortly after 8 a.m. that Jefferson and his mother came outside.

“By the time we got to the front door he was like, ‘Mrs. Jefferson. Shawn. I can’t let you sign with Liberty. You belong at Central Florida,’ ” Jefferson said. “I was like, ‘OK, this man was brave enough to sleep in my neighborhood all night. I’m going to Central Florida.’ ”

A couple hours later, Stockstill walked out of the high school with a signed letter-of-intent in hand.

“I grew up in the inner city and I grew up doing what a typical young, inner city kid was doing — getting in trouble,” Jefferson said. “I thought I had it all figured out. He came along and told me about football and stuff like that. It was life changing for me. It really was.

“Often times growing up in those neighborhoods you don’t have any direction. You don’t have any sense of wanting to go to the next level because you haven’t seen anything like that.”

So he put his trust in Stockstill’s vision and ever since has enjoyed football at the highest levels.

In 2002, he was inducted into the University of Central Florida Hall of Fame. His NFL career ended the following year and he jumped right into coaching just as he did playing — one year at William Raines High School (he was a volunteer coach) and he was off.

He became a coaching assistant with the Detroit in 2005 and by 2008 he was the wide receivers coach. Last year, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson set an NFL single-season record with 1,964 yards.

Now in his first ninth year as an NFL assistant, his first as Tennessee Titans wide receivers coach, his passion for the game and his expertise in regard to the position are easily recognizable. He hollers ‘Work!’ over and over and over. He wears cleats same as the players chases downfield as he barks instruction right to the bitter end of each play.

“I tell you, he has more passion than most guys I’ve seen in the years I’ve been on this team,” fifth-year wide receiver Kenny Britt said. “I’m excited about it. … There’s more of a preaching attitude to it. He’s preaching to us to be better players and better men off the field. On the field, he’s going to give us all he’s got. We know that.”

Stockstill left Central Florida after the 1998 season, Jefferson’s first of eligibility, to become quarterbacks coach at Clemson. He also made stops at East Carolina and South Carolina.

These days he the head coach at Middle Tennessee State University. Last Friday, he and his staff observed the Titans’ organized team activity. Naturally, he kept a close eye on Jefferson.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen him coach and he coaches exactly how he played,” Stockstill said. “There’s no doubt in my mind those receivers will be better just because of the way he coaches and his effort and his enthusiasm and his intensity, everything he possesses.

“… It made me proud to watch him coach. He was doing some of the things that I was doing when I was coaching him, saying the same things that I was saying when I was coaching him. I had a lot of pride in watching him coach. He’s an excellent coach and he’s an excellent family man. He’s got a special place in my heart.”

Their conversation following the workout was anything but a reunion.

They stayed in close contact regardless of where their careers took them. Plus, a few weeks ago Jefferson took his son, Shawn Jr., to Murfreesboro to watch Stockstill in action at the MTSU spring game.

“I told him he had to meet Coach Stock,” Jefferson said. “He’s the same good-hearted guy. Honest. He’s very straightforward. A lot of those traits I picked up from him. He’ll tell you how it is. You may not like it sometimes but it’s the truth. That’s the same approach I take with my guys.

“That simple act that he did by sleeping at my house. He didn’t take no for an answer. To this day, with me coaching those guys I don’t take no for an answer because I know how not taking no for an answer can actually change lives.”

1 Comment on this post:

By: Bigguy on 6/3/13 at 6:32

Thanks for this great personal interest sports story. More of this type of 'true life changing stories' sports related or not is needed in today's popular media.