Jefferson steps up big in starting role
Clifford Jefferson has the perfect idea for a birthday present.
"It'd be nice to beat Michigan," said Jefferson, who will celebrate his 20th birthday Monday. "It would even be better if I made an interception and ran it in for a score."
Although he did not intercept a pass against Kansas on Saturday, Jefferson had an excellent game. After being the goat in the second quarter, Jefferson recovered in fine fashion. Early in the third quarter, on fourth-and-nine, Kansas kicker Joe Garcia lined up for a 49-yard field goal. If he connected, the Jayhawks would have been within four. Instead, a right block was called and Jefferson took advantage. The sophomore defensive back exploded off the corner and did just as the coaches designed.
Earlier in the game, Jefferson was on the other end of the spectrum. He slipped while covering receiver Termaine Fulton, who scored on the play.
"Basically I lost my footing a little bit," Jefferson said. "The thought I had was that if I had not slipped, I could have intercepted the ball or at least knocked it down. It took my thought out of that when I slipped and he caught it on me."
But Jefferson wasn't about to let that mistake get him down. Making his first career start at cornerback, Jefferson stepped up his play at the most opportune time.
"I got down on myself when I tripped on the touchdown pass," Jefferson said. "I had to go into halftime and think about that. I knew that somebody had to come up with a big play because the score was getting closer," he added. "Someone had to regain the momentum for our team. It just happened to be me that made the play."
The sophomore from Dallas was unexpectedly thrust into the role of starting cornerback following the summer departure of Brock Williams, suspended for a year for disciplinary reasons. Before Saturday, Jefferson had seen less than four minutes in his Notre Dame career.
"It was a big adjustment because I was figuring to at least play a little bit this year," said Jefferson about his starting role. "I didn't expect to come in and start because Brock was the returner. I figured to play, but it was a big surprise."
Naturally, Jefferson was a little nervous about his debut.
"I couldn't really sleep all that [Friday] night," Jefferson recalled. "I was dreaming about the game and woke up five or six times in the time. I guess people say that's a sign that you're ready."
A high school All-American coming out of Carter High School, Jefferson certainly was ready. In addition to blocking the punt, Jefferson had a team-high seven tackles. Now, Jefferson's sights are set on Michigan and, in particular, on its receivers. Seniors Marcus Knight, DiAllo Johnson and sophomore Dave Terrell will test Jefferson.
"Going into this game, I'll be a little nervous because Michigan has a better caliber of receivers," Jefferson said. "It'll be much more of a game.
"They have a lot of good receivers," he added. "But with our coaching, I think we can hang in there."
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, August 31, 1999