Bombers’ Jefferson ponders putting down year-round roots with family in Winnipeg

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Willie Jefferson grew up in Beaumont, Texas, less than an hour’s drive from the Gulf of Mexico, where the average high temperature ranges from 17 C to 22 C in the winter months.

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He played his high school and college football in Texas too and signed his first pro contract with the Houston Texans of the N FL.

He met his wife, Holly, there too and, to this day, Texas is the couple’s home base, when Willie is not playing in the Canadian Football League.

But all that could be about to change.

Jefferson, a defensive end with the Blue Bombers who is equal parts athletic beast and entertainer on the field, is considering a permanent move to Winnipeg, along with Holly and their young daughter, Kelley.

“We’re thinking about it,” Jefferson said recently.

“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for the last couple months, even before the season started. The season is going well so we’re thinking about trying to make a move to be out here for the winter time.”

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Jefferson, 30, is in his second season with the Blue Bombers and has had as big an impact as any player in the organization during that time. He was named the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player in 2019, before helping the Bombers win the Grey Cup for the first time in 29 years, and could easily take that award home again in 2021.

Despite a lost season in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jefferson came back with a vengeance and has played a big role in the Bombers having a 10-1 record behind a defence that is doing historic things.

He says he has truly found a home, but it’s not entirely about football. While Willie has become a beloved figure among fans, Holly has found Winnipeg to be a good spot for her work as an artist, and the couple likes the environment for young Kelley.

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Both Willie and Holly have proven to be strong advocates for the city through various social media portals.

Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson poses with his wife Holly and daughter Kelley after the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg this year
Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson poses with his wife Holly and daughter Kelley after the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg this year Photo by Handout

“It’s just the community, the fan base and me being out here, having such a good time,” Jefferson said. “It’s the way my family likes it out here. My wife’s involved in the community, with the things she has going on.

“My daughter is getting used to being here and is especially liking the cold weather and going to day care and getting friends. We don’t want to pull her away from that, especially at the time when she’s starting to open up.”

As it is, the Jeffersons are going to be in Winnipeg until at least Dec. 12, when the CFL season concludes with the Grey Cup in Hamilton. Jefferson said they’d like to give the rest of the winter a try, to see how they like it.

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It’s going to be awfully different than southern Texas, with temperatures in January and February likely to reach below minus-30 C, but Jefferson sounds like he’s prepared for that.

“This is Winter-peg,” he said. “It’s colder here than anywhere else in Canada when it comes down to these last couple of months of the season. But if you can take it here, you can take it anywhere.

When the Bombers were on a bye last week, some of the American players went home to visit their families, but the Jeffersons went to Gimli, for a few days of relaxing at the lakeside resort town.

Both Willie and Holly often posts pictures on social media of the family enjoying various aspects of Winnipeg as well.

The Jefferson family poses on the seawall in Gimli during a visit last week.
The Jefferson family poses on the seawall in Gimli during a visit last week.

“It’s nice here,” he said. “There’s a little bit of something for everybody to do right now. My wife is into painting and art and design and she’s been expanding herself here in the city of Winnipeg with a couple of companies. She’s been hosting some paint parties and that’s something she enjoys doing. That’s something we’d like to do more of in the off-season.

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“Being in Winnipeg is something that is real comfortable for us right now.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Bombers have become such a good organization, and Winnipeg a place where some of the league’s best players want to play year after year. Under head coach Mike O’Shea and assistants like Richie Hall and Buck Pierce, the Bombers have built a hard-working, family atmosphere, something that suits Jefferson well.

The Bombers have already clinched a spot in the West Final, which will be played on Dec. 5 at IG Field, and are one win away from their second straight appearance in the Grey Cup.

That Jefferson, who has also played for Edmonton and Saskatchewan in the CFL, wants to put down roots and stay for a while should come as music to the ears of anyone in the organization.

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“We all want to be here and we all have the same goal in mind,” said Bombers receiver Nic Demski, a Winnipegger. “When you have like-minded people in a work environment, like Willie, it’s always gonna be fun.

“Willie’s a leader. He’s one of those rah rah guys, but he’s gonna put his money where his mouth is too. He’s gonna talk a lot, but at the same time he’s gonna back it up with his play. Willie’s always gonna bring energy.”

If the Bombers win another Grey Cup this year — they haven’t won consecutive championships since 1961-62 — Jefferson could start reaching folk hero status, especially if he establishes a home in Winnipeg for years to come.

He and Holly are already ambassadors for the city, making sure newcomers to the team get a chance to experience the things that have made them feel so at home.

“We want to show them the side of the city they haven’t seen, the perks of the city, if they haven’t been here for long,” Jefferson said. “The good food spots, the good places to shop and get yourself something nice. All the little spots, once you get settled, to make you feel more comfortable. We do that. We take care of our boys when they need it.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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