July 31, 2012

Desmond Jackson's motor could lead to a breakout season

With Kheeston Randall moving on to the NFL, there is a massive opening at defensive tackle on the 2012 Longhorns. And there are a couple massive candidates.

We've already profiled 6-5, 325-pound junior college transfer Brandon Moore. So now it's time to look at sophomore Desmond Jackson of Houston Westfield.

"He's got a motor unlike anyone else on the team," junior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Very low to the ground, very explosive, and he's got a very good attitude about everything."

When Mason Walters was asked what stands out about Desmond Jackson, Walters said, "His motor. He's a high-energy guy, and he plays to the whistle."

Walters singled out Jackson and Moore when asked about the defensive tackles who've impressed him over the summer.

But the man who knows Jackson's work ethic, strength and leadership qualities better than most is the man who coached him his last two years in high school - Westfield defensive coordinator A.J. Blum.

"He's always been a team guy and looked out for his teammates," Blum said. "Those are his brothers. Very emotional. High-energy kid. Relentless in practice.

"It wasn't out of the ordinary for Desmond to throw up in practice and then argue with me about sitting out because he still wanted to do the drill. He was one of those kids. You always wonder as a coach if you'll get a chance to coach a kid like this. He's got one of the best ball get-offs I've seen."

GIVING IT ALL BACK: Wait, back to that throwing up thing.

"I remember one like it was yesterday," Blum said. "The kids were doing ropes, high knees and it was a circuit type drill, going from one to the next, and he lost his lunch. I told him to go get water and stand by the trainer. But it would be selective hearing, because he'd stay in the drill.

"He threw up and it seemed like a novelty. I don't know if he was eating at the wrong time or what. But it was no big deal to him. It probably happened a half dozen times in spring ball or early in fall camp when we were working back into shape."
Blum said Jackson's work ethic was the thing that he'll remember most.

"Based on what he's done as a player and an athlete, that line's been drawn," Blum said. "Teammates want to be at his level because he does things other players want to do, like bench 500 pounds.

"I think he's starting to realize what the Lord has blessed him with, and he's starting to take advantage of it. You don't get a 500-pound bench press without working your tail off. His high school bench was around 420."

Most of the kids from Westfield being recruited have a highlight tape that ranges between 12 and 15 plays. Not Jackson.

"When people ask me how good of a player Desmond was, I tell them his highlight reel was 78 plays. How do you cut to 12?" Blum said. "It was ridiculous. For him to make a play, we just got used to our defensive tackle dominating the other team's guards.

"I think the most fun for all of us was watching film of Desmond in the offensive backfield. Desmond was a running back in our Jumbo goal-line package with defensive tackle Anthony Smith, who's now at Texas Tech.

"Desmond got to run the ball or Desmond got to run someone over so Anthony could run the ball.

"Desmond loves the game, so he wanted to be involved in all aspects of it."

COMING OUT PARTY: The game that sent college recruiters into a feeding frenzy was Jackson's sophomore season against Klein Forest, when Jackson posted 18 tackles in an overtime loss. Blum was actually the defensive line coach at Klein Forest and remembered Jackson controlling the game.

Knowing he would get to work with Jackson his final two years in high school was one of the reasons Blum took the job as defensive coordinator at Westfield.

"When a sophomore nose guard ends up with 18 tackles, that will turn the lights on," Blum said. "Everyone knew who Desmond Jackson was after that game in terms of college recruiters."

Blum took pride in getting Jackson to attack double teams during his final two seasons at Westfield.

"He went from being a bull in the china shop to having to attack double teams by attacking a guy's shoulder, then flipping his hips quick all while keeping his feet moving," Blum said. "It was a different aspect with that tackle coming down and doubling him, and it made his game better."

Jackson has to prove to Davis and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz that he's capable of that kind of play against Big 12 competition. Jackson recently told Blum that adding Brandon Moore to the rotation has added a lot of depth.

"The word is the Moore kid is going to be hell on wheels when he can go a couple series in a row," Blum said.

SENSE OF HUMOR: Jackson can often be heard singing out loud. He usually has a big smile on his face and has been known to play a practical joke or two.

"When it's go time, you know when he's locked in," Blum said. "But he's probably a cross between practical joker and class clown. He's a good-hearted kid and loves life.

"He's an infectious kid. You want to be around him. He's outgoing. He's nice. He's polite. If you didn't know him, you'd be saying, 'Why is this guy singing out loud?'

"That's just the type of kid he is. It seems like he's happy all the time. He's just a kid I think people want to be around."

Jackson has been known as "Tank" since he was in junior high. But Blum said he never played along with the nickname. He also took issue with Jackson's quarterback sack celebration.

"Unless it's on his birth certificate, I'm not calling anyone 'Tank,'" Blum said. "I would say, 'Desmond,' and people would say, 'Who?' He's always gone by Tank since he was a kid."

And about that sack dance?

"Desmond is always punching the air after a sack," Blum said. "He did it during the A&M game, and I said, 'It's time to get something new bro.'"

BO KNOWS DEFENSE: Like Moore, Jackson had ties to Bo Davis when Davis was still an assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban.

Jackson was down to the Crimson Tide and Texas, and Bo Davis' decision to leave Tuscaloosa and take the defensive tackles coaching job at UT made Jackson's decision to pick the Longhorns "a no-brainer," Blum said.

"He coaches them hard, and that's how you get guys to be successful," Blum said. "That's how I coach. I've watched video of Bo coaching, and he's not quiet. And I think that's an obvious requirement when you're coaching those defensive kids up front. Desmond responded well to Coach Davis."

Westfield coach Corby Meekins said you never had to worry about Jackson playing hard.

"He's very explosive and has unbelievable ball get-off," Meekins said. "He plays with great effort. He's always prided himself on playing hard. And that's something the player can control, and you appreciate that as his coach. Especially with those big guys."

FULL GO OR NO GO: Blum said Jackson adopted his saying of "full go or no go."
"He was a guy I never had to worry about from that standpoint," Blum said.

Jackson has an incredible support system in a close-knit relationship with his parents and younger sister.

"He's around friends growing up and coming through high school who don't have the same family structure Desmond had," Blum said. "That's not very normal at Westfield. He was fortunate that way."

Added Westfield head coach Corby Meekins, "The player he is and the player he has a chance to be starts with the kind of person he is. He comes from a great family - close knit. Great people. He always did a great job with looking after his teammates and setting an example on and off the field.

"But his family is very supportive and is always there for him. They've held him accountable as a person and as a student."

SELF STARTER: Jackson not only pushes himself, but he pushes others.

"He cares about people," Meekins said. "He's got a big heart. He's a big guy. But he's got a big heart and cares. He took his teammates and the younger guys under his wing. He was always helping them in the weight room and showing them what to do on the field.

"He had a lot of guys looking up to him because he was such a good player. He wasn't too big for his britches when it came to helping other teammates or younger guys."

When it comes to leadership style, Jackson lets his actions do most of the talking.

"When something needed to be said, he'd say it," Meekins said. "He's really intense on game day. When it's go time, it's go time for him. He's got fire in his belly and wants to win and be successful."

Meekins always talks about what a player is doing when no one is watching.

"Desmond is always pushing himself," Meekins said. "Everyone's working out during the athletic period, but what are you doing on your own time, and he was always putting in the extra time."

It could really start to pay off this season for the Longhorns.

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