McKeesport stars bonding over recruitment
McKeesport's Branden Jackson and Delvon Simmons, two of the WPIAL's most highly recruited football players, have at times turned their college search into a joint effort.
It just happened.
Nearly a dozen schools have offered scholarships to both players — including Big East rivals Pitt and West Virginia — so the two seniors have been able to compare notes about college coaches and campuses.
Nowadays, they talk often.
"Whenever I get stressed out or get confused, I've got somebody there who's going through the same thing as me," Jackson said. "It helps to know I'm not the only one feeling that way."
It's no surprise the two have so many options.
Jackson, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who plays linebacker and defensive end, is the 38th best defensive end in the country, according to Rivals.com. Simmons, a 6-5, 265-pound lineman, is rated No. 39 among defensive tackles.
For opponents, they could make a terrifying tandem.
"We're going to try to cause a lot of trouble," said Simmons, who helped McKeesport finish 7-3 in 2009. The Tigers outscored opponents, 325-30, in those seven victories.
Jim Ward, in his first year as McKeesport's coach, said he envisions moving his two stars around the defense. At times, they could be on opposite ends of the Tigers' four-man front. At others, they could be paired together, with Jackson playing linebacker.
"We're going to wreak havoc and destruction," Jackson said, with a laugh. "If you're going to double down on Del, then I might come on the blitz."
Jackson, a forward for McKeesport's basketball team, can cause matchup issues with his speed. Simmons does the same with his strength.
"Our expectations is to be great on defense," said Ward, the former Yough coach who was hired Feb. 24 to replace longtime coach George Smith, a 190-game winner with McKeesport. "We've already seen some of the things Branden and Delvon are able to do, and we've got some guys around them that we're really excited about."
But when Ward was hired, he didn't measure his two stars by their strength or speed.
"I wanted to see what their work ethic was like," Ward said. "There was obviously physical ability there, but I wanted to see how they were with their teammates. And those guys have been great."
Teammates since seventh grade, Jackson and Simmons might not be separated by high school graduation.
The two have considered committing to the same college — at this point, it's merely a wouldn't-that-be-fun discussion because neither is close to making a decision.
"We joke about it all the time," Jackson said. "It may happen. We always say we're going to do the same things there that we did in McKeesport."
But they each have more recruiting trips planned. Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Rutgers and Syracuse also have offered scholarships to both.
Jackson has a scholarship offer from Texas Tech, too, something Simmons doesn't have, which could sidetrack any plans to stick together.
"I think it could be possible," said Simmons, noting they both like North Carolina, "but it's going to depend upon whether we can like the same school."