"Let the light that shines in you be brighter than the light that shines on you." - Dabo Swinney
For women, changing the landscape of American football has been a difficult task. Although we have made strides in officiating, coaching, front office staff and management in football, this is still a heavy male-dominated industry. Many times, women have an uphill battle just to get their foot in the door let alone have a seat at the decision-making table. Never the less, with more awareness and opportunity, more women who are strong, confident, and dynamic remain ready to break barriers in America’s beloved game of football.
Meet Jessica Jefferson. A powerhouse young woman that has made it her business to redefine the norms for women who work in sports. Thriving in this male-dominated boys club is tough, but game changers like Jessica have grown accustomed to breaking barriers and encompassing greatness in this field. As we sat down over coffee, she shared her secrets to success and how she stays driven throughout adversity.
DOM: What is it like being a leader at an SEC University as the Director of Football Recruiting Operations? How does it feel to know you are motivating the masses to tap into their potential and take action towards achieving their dreams?
JJ: Serving as the Director of Football Recruiting Operations for an SEC team, is a dream come true. As one of the youngest African American females in this position, I am grateful for my current support system, and I thank God and my prayer warrior, Granny. I am nowhere near my end goal in my career, however, the strides that I have made since the beginning stages are significant. Currently, by working with a phenomenal head coach at Arkansas, I have been able formulate one of the best-recruiting classes in the Universities history, and we are only getting started. Another exciting component of my career is breaking down walls as a young African American professional. If you asked me two years ago, after I finished my full-time internship with the New York Jets, where would I be?—, I probably would have said working as a Social Media Coordinator for an NFL team. Although this was a great position, it was not my true passion. I wanted to return to the true 7 days a week, July through December, yoga pants with no makeup, grind of FOOTBALL. My current role allows me to pursue that passion wholeheartedly.
DOM: What do you love most about your current position?
While I have thrived in many areas of football operations, I truly love the recruiting and scouting aspect of the game. I am great at what I do and I love bringing young men to campus to pursue their dream of playing football and preparing for a championship life after football. I also know that my job has an impact that will transcend time. My role can greatly impact their future by allowing them to obtain a college degree and potentially pursue their athletic dreams of making it to the NFL. I also love providing young men and women with opportunities to work for the front office staff in football operations. One day, when I am working for an NFL team front office and I see the players who I have recruited over the years doing well and “balling out” on the field (with their college degree) and potentially having the opportunity to draft them to the next level, that is my ultimate definition of success.
DOM: Your advice to young people (especially women) aspiring to achieve similar career goals as yourself? Words of wisdom to individuals that want to break barriers and achieve things that others could never fathom?
JJ: My advice to anyone pursuing their passion is to never give up on their dreams. Fight for them, daily. Never doubt yourself. Trust God. Continue to pray bold prayers and lean on God through every season. Especially during times of transition because his joy and love fills and sustains you. Many times, throughout my career I have had to walk into situations solely with a leap of faith. Nothing great is ever birthed from a comfort zone. So those moments where I was uncomfortable, where God was challenging me to grow and using my circumstances to push me into my destiny, are the situations that made me the strongest.
DOM: What was your "ah ha moment"? This can be categorized as a time when you felt you realized your purpose or a moment where you realized that you could make a living pursuing your passion and purpose?
JJ: I remember this moment so well. I was sitting in history class at Clemson University, disengaged and uninterested in the subject matter. This was a common theme for me during while in classes that focused on my major. However, my interest and passion was in working in the Clemson football office. During that time the coaching staff was reinventing the program into the Championship powerhouse that it is today. As a student worker in the Clemson Football program, while working for a phenomenal and innovative leader named Coach Elliott, he taught me about recruiting and the general business of football. He also made it his business to teach me life lessons through the game of football. He would always say “Miss Jess, you gotta finish” and in my head I would think, “ Duh Coach E, I’m going to finish.” During this time of my college career, I felt connected and truly passionate about this job and I wanted to pursue this life wholeheartedly. Football became my family. It became a safe haven, a space where I knew I could thrive and grow as a woman, as a leader and as a professional.
DOM: As the second youngest African American female Director of Recruiting for an SEC institution, what are the most pressing goals and challenges facing a dynamic and intelligent leader like yourself?
JJ: Most of the challenges I face and have dealt with throughout my career arise from dealing with the insecurities of others. Many individuals are intimidated by a woman who is smart, intelligent and knowledgeable. Many times I have been undermined, underestimated, and talk down too because I'm "too young to understand” or “too cute to work too hard." This is sometimes frustrating because I thrive off of working hard and doing my best. Another challenge I face is not getting a job because I am considered too young, too attractive and not worth the risk, even though I'm more than qualified for a certain position. Granted that's not the case for all jobs but that has been the case for some which has been my motivation to WIN. I cannot and will not shrink because others are intimidated by my greatness and willingness to work hard.
DOM:What is your ultimate goal as a trailblazing woman in the sports industry?
JJ: My goal is to be the Beyonce of College Football Recruiting. When I think of this virtuoso performer, she has it all. She has phenomenal stage presence, she is a great mother, wife, sister, and friend. That's something I truly admire. Being a boss in both aspects of your life. Professionally - you see her fierceness, her boldness, her greatness. She was never afraid to put in the work to obtain her level of perfection and she will be remembered as one of the greatest performers of our time. Those qualities of hard work, dedication and relentless pursuit of passion, transcend across any field and are great characteristics to have. In every position I hold in the football industry, I want to be the best! I want other young women and young girls that will be my predecessors to benefit from the path that I have been able to blaze. I want my work to transcend time and make it the norm for women to hold powerful roles in the sports industry.
DOM: Your top five favorite things to do when you are not producing top 25 recruiting classes?
- Spend time and traveling with my friends and family.
- Relax and listen to Beyonce.
- Give back to my community and serve those in need.
- Work out. Strong mind yields a strong body.
- Fishing in Charleston with my twin brother. Any time spent with him is a good time.
DOM: How do you define what it means to leave a legacy?
Leaving a legacy means creating opportunities for others to succeed. Making my Granddaddy proud by following my wildest dreams. At Clemson, Coach Swinney said that “the best is the standard” and I want my legacy to be the best representation of myself-bold, great and fierce.
For more inspiration from Jessica Jefferson follow her via twitter @Jess_Jefferson3
Edited by: Joy Davis