St. Mary, Crown Point grad at home at Catholic college
By Anthony D. Alonzo
Northwest Indiana Catholic
Just a “short drive” from Nick Jeffirs’ family’s home, the freshman’s college life ensues. There the competitiveness of collegiate sports and the rigors of higher education seem far removed from the former Crown Point standout athlete’s younger years of being the tallest or brightest.
Jeffirs, 18, is entering his second semester at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer. He is getting accustomed to collegiate academics that require much focus and is already making a major impact on the Pumas resurgent basketball team.
On scholarship for academics and hoops, the 6-feet and 7-inches student-athlete has had to shift into high gear as St. Joe’s starts to battle closely matched conference opponents.
The St. Mary Catholic Community School and Crown Point High School graduate described himself as “passionate on the court,” but also emphasized logic and strategy.
“It’s more complicated than wins or loses… we break down each component of a game (to find) where we can improve,” Jeffirs said about the 9-13 Pumas, who completed a grueling exhibition season in January.
Jeffirs distinguished himself on the court, leading Crown Point to a sectional championship as an MVP center and power forward during his senior year. In 2014-15, he maintained a 68 percent field-goal percentage and claimed all-area honors.
While many region collegians drive downstate to more far-flung college towns like Crawfordsville, Muncie and West Lafayette, the quick 40-minute jaunt from Crown Point to Rensselaer makes things easier on Jeffirs’ parents and sister, who drive to every home basketball game.
Jeffirs said he feels St. Joe’s location affords him just the right distance from home to gain a sense of independence. Yet coming from a close-knit family, he believes experiencing some homesickness is normal.
He has seen his family deal with that dynamic before when his older brother Steve went off to college. In fact, Jeffirs said he stepped up his own brand of hokey humor in his brother’s absence to make up for some of the lost levity, since his brother was a real jokester.
“I saw how (Steve) going to college upset (my sister Maria, 14),” Nick said. “And that opened my eyes to building more of a relationship with her and keeping in touch.”
Like his siblings, Nick draws from the nurturing school environment that he was a part of for a decade at St. Mary. He said he feels at home at St. Joe’s. Personalized education is a hallmark of the Catholic liberal arts college, founded in 1889, which actually has less than half the enrollment of Crown Point High School.
“Catholic education gave that family feel… It was a sense of looking out for one another,” Jeffirs said. “I look back on how tight-knit everything was and I think I wanted that again.
“Being here and building close relationships with people and having the faith aspect, I think it’s making me appreciate everything more – a nice transition to my professional life,” the economics major and sociology minor said.
At Richard F. Scharf Alumni Fieldhouse in Rensselaer on Jan. 9, the Pumas hosted Maryville University of St Louis in NCAA division II Great Lakes Valley Conference action. In that contest, Jeffirs’ got looks from the low block but was not connecting – he was also not getting any calls.
Yet each time he shook it off, hustled down the floor and tried to make things happen for St. Joe’s, who were down 29-38 at halftime.
The Pumas’ field goal percentage improved from 41 to 57 percent by the second half and they stifled the Saints on defense to earn an 87-71 win. Jeffirs finished the game 4-for-9, with a pair of free throws.
The Crown Point teen freshened up and immediately sought out his family for a post-game pow wow.
“Just having them here is unbelievable – it’s my reason for working hard,” Nick said about his parents, Kent and Calli Jeffirs, and his sister.
Pumas head basketball coach Tom Church said though Jeffirs is often an inch or two shorter than many other college post players and centers, the Crown Point native responds to what he preaches: giving an honest effort.
“Nick is an extremely hard worker on and off the floor; I know exactly what I’m going to get from him from game-to-game,” said Church of the young player. “I’m excited for the rest of his career. He’s going to be a really good player for us.”
“I’m happy here, I’m happy with coach (Tom) Church and how he’s handled everything,” Jeffirs said. “I love the fact that my class and I are the foundation for recruiting and moving forward… they’re adding to try to complete the puzzle.”