Justin Jefferson made one of the most fashionable entrances into the NFL in league history.
The Vikings receiver racked up stats, records and recognitions in his rookie 2020 season.
He recently partnered with New Era to provide a fresh look for players — and a $10,000 grant for the program — at Johnson High School in St. Paul.
Jefferson surprised the team during a video session to celebrate the donation, field questions and share his story during a discussion moderated by NFL VP of Football Development Roman Oben, who played 12 seasons with the Giants, Browns, Buccaneers and Chargers.
The No. 22 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft told the group his favorite hat style is "the fresh bucket hats that they've got on right now."
"That's what I love to wear, especially with me being from Louisiana," Jefferson said, connecting during a break from the offseason workouts he's doing at Brandon Marshall's House of Athlete in Weston, Florida. "It's always hot and you need that shade, you need that hat."
The donation, which was part of a commitment involving multiple NFL players and New Era to help high school teams, will go well beyond style to make a substantial difference.
"We are really grateful that you'd do this," Johnson Head Coach Eric Moberg told Jefferson. "Thanks for sitting down and chatting with us and the $10,000. What can you say? It's beyond words. It's something we're going to put to use: shoulder pads, helmets, jerseys, right off the bat. Everybody really appreciates sitting down and hearing your words."
Jefferson described his journey from being a two-star recruit in high school to a first-round pick out of LSU and Pro Bowl receiver.
"For all of the guys that are not highly recruited, I was in that exact same position four years ago, just going through that process, not having that confidence, thinking that I'm not good enough to play on a big-time level; there were a lot of emotions running through my head," Jefferson said.
He focused on being a coachable player to maximize his talent. Results followed.
"I knew what play style I had. I knew what abilities I was going to have going out on that field, so I just trusted the process, trusted the coaches, learned everything from the coaches," Jefferson said. "Being a coachable player is one of the most special [characteristics] that you need as a football player. There were coaches in my life to prepare me for the next level. I just worked my butt off, kept working and kept fighting, got to LSU and got that opportunity to play and start. I just took it and ran with it."
But he almost never made it to the Tigers locker room where he had met so many greats along the way — including new Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson — during his two older brothers' college careers.
Jefferson opened up about his lack of focus on academics that nearly made him ineligible to gain admittance to LSU.
"It was just football, football, football. 'I don't need school. School is not going to get me to the NFL.' That was going through my mind, especially in high school," Jefferson said. "Having that childish mindset, just not taking class seriously, not doing homework, not studying. All of those things hindered me. My first two years of high school, I didn't have good grades and did not take it seriously at all.
"It was bad, so junior year, I really started to play more," Jefferson continued. "That's when I started for the first time and really started taking football seriously. 'OK, I'm talented enough to reach the next level, so what do I need to do?' One of those things was school. I didn't have good grades to go to a D-I school. It was bad for me, so I had to make certain grades my junior year and senior year in order to be eligible for a D-I school. Senior year, I had to make three As and a C, and I had psychology, French and some other courses. It was the hardest thing that I could have ever put myself through. It was terrible."
Summer school and extra work to catch up paid off, as Jefferson selected LSU amid offers from Nicholls State and Northwestern Louisiana.
"I went to college and said I was never going to be in that situation again," Jefferson said. "I didn't want to put my life in jeopardy, just because I didn't want to turn in some homework or didn't want to study for one to two hours a day. From then on, I took everything in my life seriously, from football to class to everything."
Jefferson helped the 2019 Tigers go 15-0 and win the College Football Playoff National Championship before entering the NFL Draft.
Even though the players scattered across the country — many into NFL locker rooms from coast to coast — the memories of good times remain strong. Jefferson also explained how his No. 18 Vikings jersey is a way to keep connected with the LSU program.
"They called me after the draft and told me, 'We have certain numbers that are available.' The numbers [included] 14 because Stefon Diggs just left. I didn't want that one because I didn't want to be the next Stefon Diggs, so that number was totally out," Jefferson said. "They had 17, 18 and a few numbers in the 80s. I said, 'No, I'm not going in the 80s. I can't do that. That's not me. I can't fit that. I'm skinny. I'm not an 80s guy.' It was either 17 or 18, so at LSU, 18 is a big leadership number for our team. It is given to the guy on the team that leads by example, is the guy on the team, so I had that in consideration and just wanted to be that leader on my team and take that tradition from LSU and bring it to the Vikings."