The South Carolina Gamecocks' big recruiting weekend is coming to a finish as many of the prospects…
Damario Jeffery: Change is coming
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Interview with 2009 South Carolina signee Damario Jeffery:
JJ: South Carolina lost several of their top tacklers from a year ago, both to graduation and early departures. What exactly have the Gamecock coaches told you about the possibility of seeing the field early and making an impact to help ease those losses this season?
Jeffery: They've just said the best player is going to play. They tell me to get my head right and get ready to step up. They're not guaranteeing me I'm gonna play. The best player is going to be out there, so if I'm the best then I'm gonna play.
JJ: How would you describe your relationship with Coach Ellis Johnson? Are you looking forward to playing for him?
Jeffery: Me and Coach Johnson have a very good relationship. We have good conversations when I talk to him. We can sit down and talk about more than just football. I'm definitely looking forward to playing for him.
JJ: You are a versatile player who can play several positions on the defensive side of the ball. Have the USC coaches told you which position you are likely to start out at?
Jeffery: Not really, but I'm thinking the Spur spot.
JJ: Long term, what position do you think you'll end up at?
Jeffery: I think it really depends on my weight. I think I'll still be able to run and play the Spur spot in the future, but they might move me because they like size at linebacker.
JJ: What would you say your accurate height and weight is these days?
Jeffery: I'm 6-3, 220 pounds.
JJ: It's no secret that you are an extremely gifted athlete and playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. Why don't you give Gamecock fans a little taste of what they can expect from you on the football field. What strengths would you say you bring to the gridiron as a defensive player?
Jeffery: In high school I was always the fastest and the strongest guy on the field. It's going to be tougher in the SEC, but I still plan to work hard to be faster and stronger than everyone. I'm gonna be a hard worker, I'm gonna be in the film room studying to make sure I know everything like the right spots so I can make the right plays. I want to outsmart the guys on the other side of the ball. I'm a very smart player.
JJ: Is there a player that you like to model your game after on the football field?
Jeffery: Not really, I'm trying to make my own game. Since I'm in the 4-2-5 now, I want to make my own game. Since I'll be playing the Spur spot, I'll probably be blitzing and playing a new kind of role so I want to make my own name with that.
JJ: Okay, I've got a two part question for you, Damario - When did you first start playing football, and when exactly did you realize that you wanted to pursue a future in football?
Jeffery: It's been a while (laughs). I started playing football around 5th grade. As far as the future, everybody grows up with the dream to play football. Right now I'm pumped to get ready for college, and if someday I can go to the next level where I can make money playing football then I'll be the happiest man on earth. God will have really blessed me.
JJ: A guy as versatile and talented as you, I'm curious how many different positions have you played on the football field in your life?
Jeffery: I've pretty much played every position besides the o-line. Starting in middle school, I played corner, I played safety, I played quarterback, and I played tight end. Then when I got to high school, I played tight end, h-back, quarterback, safety, linebacker, and I played d-end in certain packages. I've played everywhere but o-line.
JJ: I'm sure you're excited about taking your game to the next level this fall and competing against some of the best talent in the country in the SEC. With that in mind, what kind of personal goals have you set for yourself in your upcoming freshman season?
Jeffery: As far as personal goals, I just want to stay healthy. That's my main goal. It didn't matter how strong or how fast I was, I had those problems with injuries in high school. I guess I just want to stay healthy, that's my goal for this year.
JJ: You suffered a knee injury last fall during your senior season at Columbia High. I've heard that you have rehabbed that knee religiously to get back to your old form. How are you feeling this summer, and do you think you'll be back to full speed by the fall?
Jeffery: I'm full speed already, now I'm just getting stronger. I'm just getting ready.
JJ: What are you doing workout-wise right now to gear up for the jump to the college level?
Jeffery: Coach Fitz sent me a copy of their workout plan so I'm doing everything that he tells me to do. I call him and make sure it's right and things like that.
JJ: There have been a lot of positive reports about new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. I'm sure you've met him during your many times on campus. What are your impressions of him, and what have you heard about how the players are taking to his style of training?
Jeffery: Everyone loves Coach Fitz. They like his methods, and he's a great guy. He's using his methods and teaching everybody to be explosive. He makes it competitive for the guys. Everybody loves competition, especially playing football. You always want to be better than the guy beside you. That brings a lot of things to the table, and you get to see how strong the guy beside you is. Even if you don't beat him out on the field, you might beat him out in the weight room so you can have a little bragging rights (laughs).
JJ: Okay, let's take a quick look back at the recruiting process for you. Obviously you could have gone to just about any school that you wanted to, as you had offers from all around the country. But what was it about South Carolina that stood out to you and helped you decide to commit to the Gamecocks last August?
Jeffery: It was actually the fact that they haven't won an SEC Championship. It was things like that. I want to be the first to do something, and they need players like me. Plus I get to stay home. Another thing is they have some players in the league (NFL), but not many dominant players. If I go to the league and I become a dominant player, people will say: 'Hey, he's from South Carolina!'
JJ: You and your good buddy Chris Payne both clearly went above and beyond the call of duty in this past recruiting class and were great ambassadors for the South Carolina football program, talking with other prospects and letting them know how they could be a part of something special at South Carolina. Was it extra special for you seeing how the 2009 recruiting class came together to become arguably one of the best classes in the history of the USC football program?
Jeffery: It was great. We got to talk to a lot of guys, and the guys we've got coming in are of the same mind as me and Chris. They love to win and they love to play. This is a real close-knit class. If this is the class that takes us to the next level, you'll know why because we all relate to each other. We all keep in contact with each other, and that was the great thing about helping out South Carolina - we recruited the guys we wanted and thought could help out.
JJ: What was your best sales pitch when talking with other prospects about joining you and Chris at Carolina?
Jeffery: I would always say: 'Why would y'all go somewhere where you would be the 105th person to do something when we can do it at South Carolina for the first time?' Most of the guys we talked to were from South Carolina. I would say to Stephon (Gilmore): 'Why go out of state? You and me can go wherever, but if we go to South Carolina together, we can be the first to do it. We'll always be remembered. Everybody will know us.' We all got on the same page, and they said that's a good way to look at it.
JJ: I know you probably built some great friendships during the recruiting process. Which of your fellow 2009 signees would you say you're closest to as y'all prepare to enroll at Carolina?
Jeffery: It would have to be Stephon Gilmore and D.J. Swearinger. I'm very close with both of those guys. Those are the two guys I've talked with from the beginning, I mean before we even had stars or anything. I talk to Alshon (Jeffery) too.
JJ: Do you know which guys you are going to be rooming with at USC yet?
Jeffery: No, sir. It doesn't really matter to me. They're my teammates so it doesn't matter. Unless I don't know something about them that they haven't told me yet (laughs).
JJ: Alright, I've just got a few more questions for you here, Damario. Getting back to the upcoming football season, when you look at South Carolina's 2009 schedule, is there a certain game that stands out to you where you just say, "I can't wait to play against those guys."
Jeffery: There's two actually. Georgia, for one. They were the school I grew up loving. It broke my heart when they didn't offer me so I'm definitely looking forward to playing them. Then Tennessee because David Reaves, our old recruiting coach, went there. Once he got there he started asking me if I would come to Tennessee even though he knew I didn't want to go to Tennessee. I want to get back at him for doing that. I'm looking forward to both of those games.
JJ: You've been around the Gamecock players a lot this year. Is there kind of a rallying cry among those guys to right the ship and make a statement this year after the way they closed last season?
Jeffery: Oh yeah, they're motivated. I think a lot of it comes down to depth. They'll tell you: 'We were real good until a certain point.' Sometimes in the past they would just max out during the game after having (the opposing team) on the ropes. Those guys have a whole different mentality this year though. They're going for blood this year. With this class we've got coming in, all of us have gotten in good with the players. They know what we're about. This should be a very good year this year. There should be a lot of changes.
JJ: Being an in-state player, I'm sure you've grown up knowing the significance of the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry in this state. Now that you're a Gamecock, what exactly does that game mean to you?
Jeffery: You don't even know. Clemson is like another grudge I have because of what they told me and I knew they were lying. This game is gonna be crazy. The people in this state already go crazy, and now I'm playing in the rivalry. I've got my family divided down the middle. This game is gonna be crazy, I'm gonna be out for blood that game. I think there's only gonna be one team in this state, and that's South Carolina.
JJ: You obviously committed to Clemson at one point early in the process before decommitting very shortly after that. You reference some of the lies they told you during the recruiting process. Do you want to go on record about any of that?
Jeffery: If there are any other recruits reading this in the future, just know that every school is going to tell you some things you want to hear. They're gonna tell you they're the best in certain things, that you can start there, and things like that. Every school has these things. I just feel Clemson took advantage of me because it was early in the recruiting process. Then I went other places like South Carolina, and they had the same things and some better things. I just want the other recruits to know not to believe everything they tell you.
JJ: I know a lot of times incoming freshmen are excited about picking out what jersey number they're going to wear in college. Do you have an idea of what jersey number you're going to be wearing this season?
Jeffery: They asked me if I wanted #10 (my high school number), but I think I'm making a change and going with #13.
JJ: Things haven't exactly gone as well as hoped the past two years for the Gamecocks, but with the addition of you and your fellow 2009 signees, this team has more young talent on it than any USC team in recent memory. How excited are you about the future of this program and the potential to do something that has never been done before at Carolina - winning an SEC Championship?
Jeffery: Right now we're just very hungry. We feel like this class can get us over the hump. We really believe that, and one day we'll be able to say: 'We told y'all we could do it.'
JJ: I've just got one more question for you, Damario. Obviously the Gamecock Nation is excited about seeing you in the Garnet and Black this fall. Is there any message you'd like to pass on to the South Carolina fans before you go?
Jeffery: Never give up. Just believe. Come to the games and get pumped for us, and we'll do our best. We will win more games this year, I promise you that.