Rickey Jefferson never feared a quarterback throwing in his direction.
In an empty backyard on a vacant lot next to his home in Destrehan, a 12-year-old Jefferson would trot to an imaginary line of scrimmage. Name a route, and odds are he ran it. He would make circus catches behind his back, or so he said, and look back to see a stunned expression on his father’s face.
The quarterback — Jordan Jefferson, Rickey’s older brother and the former LSU standout — wouldn’t hide his praise.
“Man, Dad,” Jordan would say. “Rickey’s going to be real good.”
It was routine for the Jefferson brothers. Jordan, then an underclassman quarterback at Destrehan High, would invite his younger brother out to the abandoned lot.
At the time, Rickey’s entire focus wasn’t on football. The current LSU safety aspired to be a basketball player, just as his father, John, once was at Nebraska and later at Louisiana-Monroe.
But he didn’t decline his older brother’s offer. So they would throw, and the younger Jefferson quickly realized his own potential.
“I remember (Jordan) used to throw the ball so hard,” Rickey said. “That’s one of the things he used to do. I’m 12 years old, and I don’t have any gloves on or anything out there. I used to just run routes, and I’d catch it every time. My hands were good. They were just natural.”
Rickey’s on the other side of the ball now.
A sophomore, he’s tied for the LSU lead in interceptions with two, including a pivotal pick against Florida. He has also made 21 tackles, broken up two passes and hurried a quarterback once.
As No. 16 LSU (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) spends its off week readying to host No. 3 Alabama (7-1, 4-1) on Nov. 8, Rickey’s role in LSU’s speedy secondary continues to grow. He’s a second-stringer who rotates in often, and he always finds himself on the field in LSU’s Mustang package, which features six defensive backs.
His basketball dreams are long gone. They’ve been a distant memory for years.
As Jordan moved through high school and made his way to Baton Rouge, Rickey became the player Destrehan High fans noticed early.
He started as a freshman. Rickey played wide receiver for four seasons, and all the while he attended football camps as his name jumped around the recruiting scene.
John Jefferson said his son was always confident. He showed that trait immediately.
“In the July (LSU) camp, all these big-dog seniors were out there,” Rickey said. “I was on the line (at wide receiver), and the first time they hiked it, the guy jammed me. I got back up there, and they said, ‘C’mon, man.’ So I got up there, got off the line, ran a corner route and caught it. I was competitive.”
He rarely went with his class. While other high school freshmen worked out together, Rickey consistently lined up against players who were three years older.
Rickey bunked with his brother, and every morning the duo rode together to the camp fields: He just wanted to play with the “big dogs.” But when LSU began recruiting Rickey, they saw him as a defensive back.
The Jefferson family was and remains familiar with several notable former members of the LSU secondary.
“He saw the success of the defense, and he’s a very aggressive kid,” John Jefferson said. “He felt that was something he could make that adjustment to. He was watching the Patrick Petersons and the Morris Claibornes and the Honey Badgers, and he knew all of those guys. He looked up to them. He liked that fire.”
The younger Jefferson found himself at LSU two years after his brother departed. Following the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS Championship Game, Jordan was a name that some LSU fans reviled.
Despite that, Jordan was one of the deciding factors when Rickey committed to the Tigers. The younger sibling took several lessons from his older brother.
“He was a very strong guy,” Rickey said. “After he got booed after a game, you couldn’t tell it bothered him. I really respected that. No matter what he goes through, he always keeps his head up and stays humble and tries to do the next best thing.”
Rickey said the veterans of the defense, including Jermauria Rasco and former LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, didn’t shy away from giving him a nickname.
“They’d all say, ‘What’s up, Little Jordan?’ ” Rickey said. “Then I slowly started making an identity for myself. They found out I talked way more than my brother. My personality is way more outgoing.”
After barking calls across the field for 60 minutes, the safety makes at least two more after every game — one to his father and the other to his brother, who now plays for the Omaha Mammoths of the Fall Experimental Football League.
That empty lot in Destrehan is still a makeshift football field for when the Jefferson brothers come back home. It’s the closest they have ever come to playing on the same team.
“Hopefully we still will (play together) if he makes it somewhere and I make it somewhere,” Rickey said. “But honestly, I think I would have picked him off or hit him a couple of times.”