A.J. Jefferson got a lot of questions about his beard Tuesday. Like, a whole lot. By the end of the day he half-joked that he wanted to shave it off just to get the questions to stop.
I can’t blame them, though. When someone’s jaw line looks like it has a Dragon Ball Z character growing out of it, and when that jaw is attached to a massive defensive lineman, it’s hard to go unnoticed.
Especially at SEC Media Days, the largest annual gathering of sports media outside of the Super Bowl. That’s where Jefferson spent the better part of his waking hours Tuesday, and I trailed him the whole time. In doing so, I got some good insight into the makeup of Mississippi State’s football team this year, much of which I’ll highlight below.
But, that beard. I learned way too much about his beard. He started growing it two-and-a-half years ago, though he kept it trimmed up until the end of the 2015 season. An amateur barber himself, Jefferson is a fan of clean lines amongst the growth and works hard to keep it looking the way he wants.
That said, he doesn’t put any product in it, much to the disbelief of the eleventy-five reporters who asked him what he puts in it. All he does is shampoo it along with the rest of his head every day.
“I just treat it the same as the hair on top of my head,” he told one questionable questioner.
He’s also worried about how the beard is going to work with his helmet’s chinstrap this season. In spring practices, Jefferson often ended up with a mouthful of hair after a tackle. All of that growth, clearly, won’t fit in the small area designed only to cover a bare chin.
Jefferson, to his credit, is determined to keep the beard intact, though. At least for another five months, anyway. He says he’s likely going to cut it off after the season, but not a moment sooner.
No shave ‘til January.
Anyway, as previously promised, Jefferson did offer some good nuggets and observations when not being questioned about the woodland creature attached to his face. I learned that he wears a size 16 shoe, is afraid of heights and loves basketball, but we’ll mostly stick to football here.
– To begin, he [naturally] didn’t say a ton about the offensive side of the ball, but he was asked several times about replacing Dak Prescott at quarterback, and each time Jefferson showed no hesitation in sharing his thought that MSU has someone who can be just as good as Prescott from a football standpoint, though he pointed out that certainly Prescott “did so much for the university” that wasn’t just about touchdowns and big games.
As for the four quarterbacks, Jefferson said (and Mullen repeated) that there genuinely isn’t a leader for who wins the starting job. However, Jefferson believes whoever gets the job will be in for a big season.
“Whoever wins it is going to have a special year,” he said. “Whoever starts this year deserves it because it’s going to be a tough battle.”
– Speaking of the absence of Dak, Jefferson was also asked who the new leaders are on the team after such an important senior class leaving following last season. On offense, he mentioned wide receivers Fred Ross and Donald Gray, offensive lineman Justin Senior and quarterback Damian Williams. On the defensive side, he singled out linebackers Richie Brown and Gerri Green and defensive backs Tolando Cleveland and Kivon Coman.
– Here, it’s worth sharing some notes on Green, the talented redshirt sophomore linebacker who has drawn comparisons to former MSU linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Jefferson said Green has become a new person this offseason, stepping into more of a leadership role and being quite active about it, in much the same vein as McKinney a few years ago.
“He carries himself as if he’s been here four or five years,” Jefferson said of Green.
Also notable: Jefferson said that when the team ran the stadium this week, the 250-pound Green finished second on the entire team, ahead of dozens of defensive backs, receivers and running backs.
– Jefferson shared some thoughts on a few other teammates, as well.
On sophomore safety Brandon Bryant, “He’s one of the best players in the SEC,” Jefferson said. “He’s the best athlete on our team … and all the women love him.”
Jefferson also singled out true freshmen defensive linemen Kobe Jones and Jeffery Simmons as being extremely eager to learn since arriving at the beginning of the summer.
On Simmons, Jefferson said “he might be the strongest defensive lineman in there.”
– Jefferson also shared the story of head coach Dan Mullen calling a team meeting after he returned from completing the Boston Marathon, wanting to share his thoughts and lessons learned with the team.
“That gave me a lot more respect for him, being able to do it,” Jefferson said. “He told us he couldn’t have looked us in the eyes if he didn’t finish.”
– And finally, this isn’t directly related to MSU’s prospects on the field this year, but I really liked Jefferson’s answer when asked about so many of the divisive racial and cultural issues in the country recently.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re blue, pink, green or whatever,” he said. “I don’t care. If you can play football, you’re gonna line up next to that other person who can play football.”