High School Football

For Indian Land receiver, military family has prepared him for next step in football

Indian Land’s AJ Jefferson will be a third generation member of the Army as he has committed to the school to play football.
Indian Land’s AJ Jefferson will be a third generation member of the Army as he has committed to the school to play football. Mac Banks

For the Jefferson family, the military is a way of life.

Indian Land senior A.J. Jefferson will soon become the third generation of the Jefferson family in the U.S. Army. He’ll also soon follow his grandfather’s footsteps to West Point — but, unlike his grandfather, Jefferson won’t be teaching there.

He’ll be playing football.

Jefferson wasn’t overly-recruited, but he had plenty of options come his time to commit. He had offers from Princeton, Air Force, Cornell and West Point. The tradition and family heritage of West Point was what helped land the safety/wide receiver at the military school. At Army, he will be playing cornerback.

“The facility was nice, and they are a top-25 team,” he said. “I enjoyed my visit a lot. I developed a good relationship with the coaching staff. I was impressed with the players, and the brotherhood there was real.”

Jefferson said the thought of having to serve in the military for four years after graduation didn’t sway his decision.

“What they don’t tell you is, afterward, if you want to go to med school or something like that, they will pay for that, and that counts toward your four years as well,” he said.

Jefferson said he would like to pursue a master’s degree, but that he is still deciding on what he wants to major in between business and engineering. He currently has a 4.3 GPA on a 5.0 scale at Indian Land.

While the military has been a large part of his family’s life, football has always been just as important to Jefferson. He started playing the game at 7 years old. He said he has always loved the game.

“I love the teamwork,” he said. “I love the grind and Friday nights under the lights.”

Indian Land head coach H.B. Blades said he isn’t surprised that Jefferson chose to go to West Point, due to his natural leadership he displays on and off the field.

“Whenever you get an offer from West Point, that is the best of the best on and off the field,” Blades said. “(Between) his character and academics, he is a true leader for these younger guys coming through on what it is like to be an Indian Land football player.”

Blades said he feels like Jefferson will fit in well at West Point.

“I think he will fit in with the academics and the football,” he said. “He can play a variety of different positions in the backfield. He will be an asset for them.”

Jefferson said he isn’t sure if he wants to make a career out of the military. His grandfather was in the Army for 30 years and taught at West Point, and his father was in the Army for 10 years. Jefferson said his family was supportive of his college choice even if it wasn’t going to West Point.

“I knew a little bit more about West Point than the average person did, just because of my family’s background,” he said. “They were really open about letting it be my decision. There was no pressure or anything.”

Jefferson said he is excited about playing for Army, but he’s also looking forward to having a good experience at the New York school and getting a good education. Having a family with a military background, he said, helped prepare him to go there, so the regimented lifestyle won’t be anything new to him.

“My dad is really strict,” he said. “I have grown up with more structure than the average kid has.”

Born in Hawaii, Jefferson is part African-American and Samoan. His mother is from Hawaii, which is where his parents met when his father was stationed there while in the military. He moved to Tampa, Fla., when he was 3 years old with his family. His father left the military a year later, and they moved to the Charlotte area when he was 5.

“I vaguely remember moving around some,” he said.

Jefferson moved to Indian Land from Charlotte when he was 8 and has lived in the area ever since. He said he has seen the area change a lot since then.

“When my parents said we were moving to Indian Land, I was like, ‘Where is that?’” he said. “But it has grown a lot. I am surprised at how much it has grown.”

Like the Indian Land area, Coach Blades said he has seen a lot of growth in Jefferson over the past several years.

“He has always had a great demeanor,” Blades said. “He has been a starter since he was a freshman. His approach to the game has always been laser-focused. The maturity since he came up from middle school is something he has always had.”

Mac Banks: mbanks@comporium.net, @MacBanksFM