Shaquille O’Neal has been one of the dominant players on the basketball court for the past 17 years.
Many Hoosier football fans hope IU’s Shaq, Shaquille Jefferson, will have a similar effect on their turf.
Jefferson, a senior at Lexington High School in Lexington, Ohio, is one of three safeties in IU’s 2010 recruiting class, and he is ready to help the Hoosiers “Play 13” on a consistent basis.
“I just want to help out and do what I can,” Jefferson said. “I’m listed as a safety right now, but I’ll play wherever coach (Bill) Lynch and the staff needs me. I think this program is going in the right direction.”
Jefferson, who had offers from several Mid-American Conference schools, immediately fell in love with IU when his high school team visited during the summer. As soon as he arrived on campus, Jefferson knew he was in the right place.
He never even made an official visit.
“All the guys on the team were really nice, and it turned into an easy decision for me,” Jefferson said. “I can’t wait to get started next summer.”
Jefferson’s high school coach, Russell Payne, said the recruit hasn’t even come close to his full football potential. He is not ranked by Rivals.com or Scout.com, but Payne believes that doesn’t diminish the potential he will have on the Hoosier football squad.
“He’s one of the most pure athletes I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around,” Payne said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete and his best football is ahead of him. Shaq is a very physical player, and I think he’s hitting at the Big Ten level right now.”
While Jefferson has worked hard to become the player that he is, his family pedigree also had something to do with his success.
Jefferson’s older brother, Jamario O’Neal, played strong safety at Ohio State.
He was ranked No. 31 in the class of 2005, according to Rivals.com, and he helped the Buckeyes to four consecutive Big Ten Championships.
Payne said other Big Ten schools were interested in Jefferson, but he already had his heart set on playing in Bloomington.
“He probably could have gotten some other big-time offers, but you know, I think Indiana was a great fit for him,” Payne said. “Coach (Bobby) Johnson did a great job of recruiting him. When we went over for the one-day camp over the summer, Shaq fell in love with the school and the coaching staff.
“When it came time to make his college decision, Shaq kind of wanted to do it quietly because that’s just the player he is. He’s not a ‘look-at-me’-type kid. He’s all about the team first and he’s really just a humble kid.”
The Hoosiers have not won a bowl game since 1991 when they beat Baylor 24-0, but Jefferson said he is not concerned.
The 6-foot, 180-pound hard-hitter knows the program’s best days are in the future, and he hopes he can help IU become one of the elite teams in the Big Ten.
“I definitely think we can turn it around,” Jefferson said. “They have some good players there already, and I think we will only get better.”
The new North End Zone doesn’t hurt either.
“With all the new facilities there and the upgraded stadium, it’s a great place to be,” Payne said. “And academically, IU will challenge you as a student-athlete. I think all of those aspects will be great for him.”