By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
Inheriting one of the nation’s top overall prospects in their final season of high school, with the entire country eagerly anticipating his decision on where he would play college football, was the role Tom MacPherson found himself in earlier this year.
MacPherson is the head coach of Baker County High School, which is located in Glen St. Mary, Fla., or basically halfway between Lake City — the home of Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil — and Jacksonville.
For those that don’t follow recruiting, Baker County is the home of CeCe Jefferson, the nation’s highest rated defensive end. He is every bit of 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds and it was MacPherson’s job to figure out how to get the most out of him, and help the team win games in the process.
“I had CeCe in some crossover games and I had seen him on film before I came to Baker County. I read about him all the time, so I knew who he was coming in,” said MacPherson, who just wrapped his first year at Baker County after coaching 15 years at Ridgeview High in Clay County. “Anytime you come into a new situation, whether it be high school or college, and you have All-Americans, Heisman Trophy winners, five-star players, the first thing you have to figure out is who they are and what makes them tick. Then you have to find out what type of player they are on and off the field. It didn’t take me long to figure out that CeCe was a good player that you could put into almost any scheme.”
Once MacPherson got Jefferson to buy into his way of making sure he was going to be successful while also helping his teammates make plays, everything else fell into place.
“We went through spring ball first to get a feel for his personality and his temperament and how you deal with him and the guy thing about CeCe is he is a guy you can push, he’s a guy you can get on,” MacPherson said. “He’s not a player that’s going to say ‘Hey, I’m a three-time All-American, you can’t talk to me that way.’ He wants to be coached. He wants to get better. It was a real easy transition.”
Unfortunately for MacPherson and the Wildcats, Jefferson was injured four plays into the third game of the season. MacPherson said that he was playing weak side end when he got hurt, and playing a big part in a front that in essence was going to take away space from opposing offenses.
“Because the game in high school is played so much on the hash marks, that really, if you want to look at it, CeCe was more of a field side end for us,” MacPherson said. “It just so happened that he lined up on what we would consider the weak side. The first two games CeCe was playing in, if the ball was on the hash, we just made a call that put him to the field, so even though he was the weak side, he was still lined up to the field. When I started evaluating tape, I looked at all the games from (2013) and basically what people do is see where CeCe is and they run away. So what we figured out is if we put him to the field, we can have that team run at him, or if they run away from him, they run into the boundary.”
The theory of running away from the best player on the field and into the boundary or right at Jefferson allowed the defensive front to get set up easier. Why is it important to know all this heading into college? Because Jefferson’s ability to cause havoc as a run stopper or pass rusher may cause an offense to shift things in college. And like Robert Nkemdiche’s move inside helped the entire defensive line for Ole Miss, a player with Jefferson’s ability makes it easier for everyone to garner big plays.
“We had the ability to put CeCe wherever we wanted him. We just had to tell our defense to set the front to the field or boundary or do we want to set it to the formation?” MacPherson said. “We could change where we wanted to put him, but because in high school the ball is on the hashmark 70 percent of the time, we just felt like if we put CeCe to the field, we felt like we were putting into a position where they were running it at CeCe or running it into 17 yards as opposed to 38 yards.”
When it comes time to talk about pure athleticism, MacPherson said Jefferson passes the eyeball test “by far” adding that he coached against Tim Tebow three times when he was at Ridgeview.
“It was pretty special coaching against a kid like Tebow, but actually coaching a kid everyday, in agility drills, in position drills, to have a player on your team like that, he is by far the most athletic guy with the best skill set I have ever had,” MacPherson said.
After Jefferson was injured, MacPherson said his star dealt with it all in two different phases.
“I remember everyone looked around and said ‘Ok, now what do we do? As soon as it happened, CeCe went to the local hospital and they checked him out and he was back on our sideline in the second half and he while he didn’t know exactly what to do, he made an impact by being able to talk to other players,” MacPherson said. “Then the following week, that was the first time that CeCe ever had to come to realization that he wasn’t going to play. For the first three years of his career, the game came so easy to him. He was able to make so many plays and this was the first time that football was ever taken away from him. That following game, I had to stay in the locker room an extra four or five minutes because when the team left, he absolutely broke down. That’s when I knew as a coach he had a very successful future ahead of him. That was the first time I realized how much football means to him.”
Jefferson is being pursued by Ole Miss, Alabama, Florida and Auburn, a team that has become a dark horse in the sweepstakes. MacPherson will talk about Jefferson’s recruiting, and when we’ll all find out, in the next chapter coming Saturday.