When Delvon Simmons decided to transfer from Texas Tech after the spring semester, the Red Raiders were affected in several ways. They lost a returning starter, a big body for their new 3-4 defense and a young player in whom they’d invested much development time.
On a personal level, it impacted defensive end Branden Jackson, given he and Simmons were lifelong friends from McKeesport, Pa. Jackson admits he thought about leaving right after his buddy did.
Then it occurred to him: He had no good reason.
“I won’t lie. I contemplated it,” Jackson said. “He was my best friend. We’ve been through so much. I felt like if he was going, I was going with him. That’s my brother.
“But at the end of the day, I’m my own man and I wasn’t going to leave a program that hasn’t done anything wrong to me, treated me with class, treated me great and a place where I’ve begun to make a name and I’m comfortable.”
The Red Raiders would love to see Jackson, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound sophomore defensive end, come into his own this season. The Raiders aren’t as deep as they’d like on the defensive line, and Jackson, aside from his talent, has had a couple of years to get comfortable.
That’s something Simmons never did, apparently, before he left in May. He wound up at Southern Cal.
“I just felt like when he first got here, Lubbock wasn’t what he was used to,” defensive end Dartwan Bush said, “and I guess it didn’t get any better for him over the years, so he did what he thought was best for him.”
Bush also describes himself as “really close” with Simmons. Then again, Bush hadn’t known him since childhood.
“As tough as I try to act, that’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve had happen to me,” Jackson said. “Me and Delvon grew up together, played Little League, played high school and everything, decided we wanted to come to school together. Him leaving, it hurt me. That was my rock. That was who I leaned on whenever I was hurt.
“But as soon as he left, all the team came together and they were like, ‘We’re a team. I know that’s your brother, but we’re all your brothers. Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean you don’t have anyone.’
“That kind of helped me get through that. I talk to him every day. I wish him the best of luck, but I’m down here, and I love where I am.”
Jackson expects to love it even more this season, partly because he thinks he’s a good fit for the defense Matt Wallerstedt has installed. He’s been tried at the bandit position, a combination defensive end-outside linebacker, and as a down defensive end in the three-man front.
“This defense, this is my favorite,” said Jackson, who had 19 tackles last year. “I love this defense. It reminds me a lot of an NFL-style defense with all the adjustments and all the movement — the movement of players and (the offense) not knowing who’s playing what.
“It’s a really fun defense. It’s really active. It might be confusing for those who don’t understand football. For those who do, they know we’re doing a lot.”
Based on what he’s seen the last few months, Jackson expects to be used in a variety of ways and to be turned loose to attack offenses from several angles. From time to time, he might even be at a third or fourth position beyond the two he’s played so far.
“I don’t even have a listing,” Jackson said. “Everyone says, ‘You play linebacker. You play defensive line.’ I always tell them. I play a-t-h. I’m just an athlete. I’ll be everywhere.”
Now he just has to get it all down. He spent virtually all spring at the bandit spot, competing for the starting job with sophomore Pete Robertson. After Simmons’ departure, coaches decided to move Jackson to end, where he’s second on the depth chart behind Bush. A high school linebacker, Jackson had never played end until he got to Tech.
That change also means a change in position coaches: from Mike Smith, the co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach, to defensive line coach John Scott.
“I’ve been in and out of coach Scott’s office,” Jackson said, “talking to him, trying to get some tips on what I can do and a jump start so I can catch up to the guys who have been doing it all spring.”
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