Rickey Jefferson’s memories from his time at Destrehan High School are nearly all from the offensive side of the ball. After all, he primarily played receiver and running back.
There is one memorable defensive moment, though. It came against a guy he might meet again on the field in a few weeks, Auburn receiver and former East St. John standout Duke Williams.
“I got a pass deflection against Duke,” a smiling Jefferson said.
Jefferson, LSU’s junior safety, saw his role this year grow Wednesday when starter Jalen Mills suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out for, at least, the first two games of the season. A guy who rarely played defensive back in high school is now thrust into a starting role for what could be a key two-game stretch.
The Tigers travel to play Mississippi State in Game 2 on Sept. 12 and host Auburn on Sept. 19 in a pair of early Southeastern Conference duels. The goal is to have Mills ready to return for Auburn, but that’s no certainty.
It sets up another Jefferson vs. Williams matchup, right?
“Yeah,” Jefferson said, “I’m looking forward to it.”
Jefferson was poised to play a good portion of the time this season even before Mills’ injury.
In the Tigers’ five-defensive back set, Mills moved from safety to nickel back, and Jefferson replaced him at safety. The Tigers play nickel — the five-defensive back set — just as much, or more, as their base 4-3 defense in some games.
Jefferson now takes on the starting safety role alongside Jamal Adams, a freshman All-American last season.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Jefferson has worked mostly out of the spotlight in his first two years in Baton Rouge — somewhat stunning news seeing as he’s the young brother of former quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He played in just seven games as a true freshman in 2013, getting a starting nod in the regular-season finale against Arkansas — a game in which he blew a handful of coverages.
What do you expect? He hardly played defense in high school. Coaches at Destrehan had him occasionally cover an opponent’s best receiver.
He covered the likes of Williams, now a star at Auburn who was the No. 1 junior college prospect in 2014. He also covered Trovon Reed, a former defensive back at Auburn who played at Thibodaux, and Jarvis Landry, the former LSU receiver standout from Lutcher.
“I got a tackle on (Landry),” Jefferson said before adding, “but it was in the end zone.”
His one shining moment at LSU? A game-changing interception in the win over Florida last season. He snatched a Jeff Driskel pass, deflected by linebacker Kendell Beckwith, to set up the Tigers’ game-winning field goal.
He’s carried that over to spring, summer and now preseason camp. Asked who had the hardest hit at the Tigers’ first camp scrimmage Saturday, linebacker Lamar Louis began discussing Jefferson.
“Rickey comes down and lays the hat,” Louis said earlier in the week, before Mills’ injury. “He’s going to be big for us at that safety position.”
Jefferson could have played receiver at some of the nation’s powerhouses. For instance, he said he turned down an offer to play wideout at Southern Cal. What Trojans coach recruited him then?
“Ed Orgeron,” Jefferson said of the USC-turned-LSU assistant coach.
Jefferson always dreamed of playing defensive back at LSU. He admits it — he got swallowed up in the “DBU” moniker the program touts. He wanted to be another Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne or Chad Jones.
“Me coming here with my brother here … Patrick Peterson was his roommate,” Jefferson said. “Something just struck me about me walking in here and seeing the DBs. I was like, ‘I know I’m athletic enough to be a DB. I just have to get coached up.’ ”
Here is he now, coached up and all, set to be a starter.
“Mamma always told me that anything I put my mind to I could do it,” Jefferson said. “I did it.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.