by JACK MELANSON, Senior Writer
When Sean Jeffcoat’s resume came across the Manhattan College admission desk, it’s likely that a few heads were turned.
Now a Jasper, Jeffcoat first spent time in the NFL as an Arizona Cardinal and in the military as a member of the United States Air National Guard.
His story starts at Jack Britt High School in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
“When I got to high school I didn’t want to play football, but my oldest brother basically said ‘stop being a little punk and play’,” Jeffcoat said. “Once he said that I started playing, but my family is a basketball family so I’ve always wanted to play basketball.”
Seemingly the right choice, the young athlete invested in football – a sport that would later invest in him as well.
“Around sophomore year or junior year of high school is when I realized I had a chance to play college football. My first scholarship offer was from East Carolina [University] at the end of my junior year,” Jeffcoat said. “Once I started getting [more] offers and schools were looking at me, then I was like ‘okay, I really can play college football, I’m good enough to at least play Division I AA’, and sure enough I went to Elon [University].”
It was at Jack Britt where he garnered a nickname that sprung his life into action.
“I had the nickname ‘superman’ in high school, I kinda took that heart,” he said. “There was one guy in high school who called me it, but I ran with it, so I try do whatever I can and be good at whatever I’m doing.”
Putting his days as a free safety in the rear view, Jeffcoat stuck to playing wide receiver for the Elon Phoenix.
“I was going to accept [another] offer and then I realized I wasn’t trying to play defense. I [wasn’t] trying to get run over, I’d rather score touchdowns,” he said. “I ended up falling in love with Elon.”
Well, wide receiver and photographer, that is.
“Growing up I was always into art. My dad and a few of my uncles are pretty big into drawing pictures and painting so it came naturally to me. I actually started my degree with business at Elon, but quickly realized that I wanted to [study art],” Jeffcoat said. “I never thought I could be a photographer, but I fell in love with it.”
More than anything, Elon became a brotherhood.
“All of the practices and just hanging out over the years were the best memories with those guys,” Jeffcoat said. “There was times where we had snowball fights. Those snowball fights were better than everything else. It was like, ‘oh snap, these are my brothers.’ It got a little rough, I’m not going to lie, but it was fun.”
The fun couldn’t last forever though.
“The last game of the season we played Western Carolina and I knew for a fact it was my last game with the group of guys that I came in with …The very end of the game everyone got together and we started tearing up,” Jeffcoat said. “We knew that was it. We spent four years of our lives there – building something pretty good – we were leaving a legacy in a sense. Even if people don’t really remember it years down the road, at least we will.”
Sure enough, what started as a ceiling for Jeffcoat turned out to be just a stepping stone.
“Even [during my time at Elon] I didn’t think I was going to play past college. I wanted to but I didn’t think I was going to,” Jeffcoat said. “It wasn’t until about three or four games into my senior season at Elon that I got a phone call from one of my coaches. He said ‘Hey Jeffcoat, such and such [NFL] team is here, they want to speak to you.’”
“I had literally just woke up and didn’t think anything about it. Then I got to the office, one of the coaches from the Cardinals was there, all he did was say ‘Hey, how’s it going, good game’ That’s all he could say. That was about it, from then on I was like ‘Oh snap, I could probably play in the NFL. It was pretty cool.”
All of a sudden it was official. Sean Jeffcoat was going to be an Arizona Cardinal.
“I express excitement differently than most people. Most people get an exciting phone call and start running around, I don’t express it as much,” Jeffcoat said. “I was actually eating dinner and I got a call from my agent saying ‘hey, how would you like to play for Arizona and they give you such and such signing bonus’ – instantly I started smiling. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the week.”
Then, in August of 2011, Jeffcoat’s dream of playing in the NFL became a reality.
“It felt like I belonged in a sense. It felt like I was supposed to be there. Everything was working the way that it should work. It was cool because I had just watched Larry Fitzgerald play in the Super Bowl and then all of a sudden I’m in the same locker room as him – I’m asking him for advice – and even if I wasn’t asking him for advice he would come up and give it to us,” he said. “So being on the field and watching him play in person – with the same uniform on – that was the best thing in the world… That was like an all-time high.”
One 12 yard reception was all it took to shake the NFL jitters.
“I ran the route, actually caught it, and I got hit out of bounds. I actually think that was probably the point in time where I knew for a fact that I was going to be playing in the NFL,” Jeffcoat said. “The route that I ran was real simple and the guy that tried to tackle me didn’t, that was it. From then I just had that mentality, I knew I could play I just had to get better.”
At Elon it was photography, but the NFL taught something a little different.
“We were in practice and the offense was getting their butt whooped by the defense. Out of nowhere – Darnell Dockett, this big, grown man – literally just comes over and was talking to me about leadership. I said ‘Darnel, why in the heck are you talking to me about leadership’, I was thinking ‘I just got here, I’m just trying to learn the plays,’” Jeffcoat said. “ [Dockett] just saw leadership in everybody, it wasn’t just me, I just happened to be there. Since he was talking to me I tried to take it to heart and I tried to show my leadership.”
Unfortunately, just four preseason games later, the dream was over for the promising young receiver out of Elon.
“Honestly it was a freak accident in my opinion, we were playing [the Denver Broncos]. I got put out there on the punt team, which shocked me because I was waiting to get out there later in the game. There was two guys on me, and I kid you not, I went to swipe one of their hands down, on the inside release, and my shoulder just popped out of place,” he said. “It popped out, stayed out, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t do anything.”
The injury took more than just a shoulder down, however.
“I knew for a fact that once that happened and I went into the locker room to get an x-ray …That was pretty much it. At least for a little while,” he said. “It crushed me at the time. I didn’t know what to do, it was bad.”
Recovering and getting back on the gridiron would be no easy feat either.
“I talked to my agent about [coming back] and basically I came to the conclusion that it’d be pretty tough for me to get back. Throughout practice you have practice film, throughout the game you have game film, and for me, coming from such a small school like Elon, and just now getting my name out there, it’d be pretty hard for me to convince a team that I was good enough to play,” he said. “I still think I probably should have stayed in Arizona to try to get on the practice team again, but at the same time I feel like it still worked out. I’m still here.”
Hanging up the cleats was difficult, but the then 22 year-old had a lot to live for.
“No [there’s no chance of me playing again], heck no. I wish, but I turned thirty this year. Thirty in NFL is pretty ancient, in a sense. I’ve been playing football since I was young, but playing for all of those years takes a toll on your body,” Jeffcoat said. “I wish I could still play, I feel like I could still play, in reality I probably can’t still play. But there’s no future there anymore.”
Despite such a detrimental injury, Jeffcoat owes everything to the sport.
“It’s just a game, but if you’ve been playing since you were a kid and you make it all the way to the professional level, even if it was just one day or 15 years, you owe a lot to football because you learn a lot from it,” he said. “I still think of it as a positive.”
Staying in Arizona was hard without football and homesickness set in. It was time for a big change.
“I started realizing I wasn’t going to play again so I went back to North Carolina. Right when I got home it was a struggle to try to find a job, so I thought the Air Force wasn’t a bad idea,” said Jeffcoat.
The ensuing years only brought more discipline as Jeffcoat turned the page to the military.
“I’ve been playing football all my life so the training aspect for the military wasn’t hard at all. It was the discipline that was the hardest, especially when I first joined,” he said. “The attention to detail and being able to sit down, take instructions, and apply those instructions to whatever you were doing, that was the toughest part.”
No more yelling things like “hot-route” or “Omaha.” Military language meant something much more.
“The [military] lingo was hard to learn, when I was playing football we used to make up words, now I had to actually learn the military language full of real words so that we could help real people,” Jeffcoat said.
Like football, his fondest memories of the military involve the people he was surrounded by.
“I’m a peoples person, football made me a peoples person. I got deployed to Qatar, so after meeting the nationals out there, I came to appreciate what we have here in the [United States],” Jeffcoat said. “It humbled me a lot, even though I feel like I’m a pretty humble person, that slapped me in the face. It continued to help me grow.”
During his six-year span in the Air National Guard, the militant receiver was predominately stationed in Montana.
“Montana is beautiful country, the scenery was amazing,” Jeffcoat said.
Now part of the inactive-ready reserves, Jeffcoat is spending his time at Manhattan College as he earns a second bachelor’s degree in business management.
The College’s Veterans Success Center played a large role in making Jeffcoat a Jasper.
“[The Center] is pretty dope, I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t expecting it to be this involved … Or even Dr. Kaplan to be as involved, and he loves interacting with us,” Jeffcoat said. “Working with the people in that program makes you a lot more comfortable than just going to any other school and being that one vet, that one old person in class. You’re struggling to try to find friends or just anyone to relate to. It’s been pretty cool.”
As an artist, Jeffcoat was most excited to explore New York from behind the lens.
“I wanted to get into street photography. Obviously there’s nothing but skyscrapers here so it was a perfect spot,” he said. “This is a great city to take pictures. Whether its Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Yonkers … That was the main reason I came here.”
Jeffcoat will return to his alma mater, Elon University, for law school upon graduating from Manhattan.
“I want to focus on either corporate law or real estate law. At least that’s what I’m saying now,” he said.
A unique resume, but one that he is proud of.
“Growing up my mom and dad told me to be as diverse as possible, that way you can interact with whoever and you can get ahead in life. I’ve applied that pretty directly to whatever I was doing,” Jeffcoat said. “Taking every piece from everything I’ve done, it kind of molded me to become who I am today. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so why not learn something from another aspect of this world.”
For Jeffcoat, it’s all for Fayetteville, North Carolina.
“Coming from where I come from, there’s not a lot of people that get a chance to do things. I’m the first person in my family to go to law school, I’ll be the first person in my family with three degrees, so doing stuff like that, even being in New York, it gives me motivation to do a lot of things when I get the opportunity to do it.”
Jeffcoat also notes that he is afraid of heights, would love to speak spanish, learn to play an instrument and would like to meet a celebrity like Jay-Z.
“I’m just a regular guy,” he said.