A lot of eyes watch Delvon Simmons, and no one has to tell Texas Tech’s young defensive tackle. It comes with the territory of being a consensus top-100 national recruit.
He knows 13 tackles and one sack in his 10-game college debut don’t meet the instant-impact expectations some had for him.
“I try to take it day by day,” Simmons said Saturday, “but once I hear people talking about it, it makes me want to work harder and get better, because they had high hopes on me last year and I didn’t do too well. This year, I want to try to get better.”
Tech coaches think the 6-foot-5, 282-pound sophomore from McKeesport, Penn., will start to live up to his potential soon. Not only is he through a first-year introduction to the Big 12 Conference, but his lead-up to the 2012 season is bound to be less stressful than the months that preceded his first semester at Tech.
In essence, Simmons went through two recruiting cycles, signing with North Carolina last February, backing out and then going through another round of decision-making before he transferred to Tech. That wasn’t the end of it, because the NCAA didn’t stamp Simmons eligible until after preseason practice started in August.
A few weeks later, with minimal preparation from the team’s strength and conditioning program, he was thrown in with a struggling defense.
“I was pretty happy I got to play as a freshman,” he said, “but at times ... I thought I was ready, but I didn’t have the confidence to go in there and play. I guess if I would have had more confidence, then I would have played a little bit better. I don’t think I played as good as I could have.”
Recruitniks were taken aback when Simmons signed with North Carolina, partly because he went to the Chapel Hill campus only on an unofficial visit. Top recruits can use expense-paid official visits to tour as many as five favorites.
Simmons says North Carolina was reasonably close to his Pennsylvania home, making it easier on his family, and he was impressed by the Tar Heels’ tradition of sending defensive linemen to the NFL. Eight former UNC defensive linemen are currently on NFL rosters, including big names such as Julius Peppers and Vonnie Holliday.
“I thought I had a good chance to go to the league from there,” he said.
Simmons said then-Tar Heels defensive line coach John Blake made him receptive to UNC before Blake resigned in September 2010. Then in January 2011, UNC filled the job with Brian Baker, a 15-year NFL defensive line coach whose first priority was landing Simmons. He did. But a month later — less than a week after national signing day and with Simmons signed by UNC — the Dallas Cowboys announced they’d hired Baker.
“A big part of me leaving was because the coach left,” Simmons said. “My (high school) coach called him and talked to him. My coach asked him — because he’d heard rumors about him leaving — was he leaving? He (Baker) said no and started laughing about it, so I didn’t think he was going to leave.”
UNC announced in mid-March that Simmons had requested and been granted his release. In mid-April, after weighing Tech against Southern Cal, Simmons signed financial aid papers with Tech. At the time, McKeesport coach Jim Ward said Simmons had also spoken with coaches from Miami, Auburn and Pittsburgh in the weeks after getting his release.
Don’t forget: He was still a high school student.
“It was stressful,” Simmons said, “because I was thinking about trying to stay on track with football and school, and then I had that going on on the side. Once it finally got over with, it relieved some stress. I could just focus on school and football.”
The Red Raiders started spring practice last week. They’re hoping returning starter Kerry Hyder, returnees Simmons, Dennell Wesley and Donte Phillips and junior-college import Lee Adams can make the defense tougher up the middle.
Although Tech’s rushing defense was worst in the nation last season, Simmons found grappling with Big 12 linemen in pass protection to be a bigger adjustment.
“I never really had any (pass blocker) set back so far on me on pass rush,” he said, “because I came from a running-style conference. They mainly ran the ball. I think that was the biggest adjustment, trying to pass rush. Obviously, we didn’t do too good, but we’re working on it.”
If nothing else, Simmons thinks he’ll be better prepared this fall than he was last fall.
“I feel like I’m getting better,” he said. “I’m trying to get stronger. I think that was my biggest thing whenever I came in — that I needed to get stronger. Coach (Joe) Walker’s a good strength coach. He’s getting me stronger, but you’ve just got to take it day by day.”
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