With the regular season completed, the 2013 fall graduation class commenced, and an Alamo Bowl battle ahead with the Oregon Ducks, senior Jackson Jeffcoat is NFL-ready after fighting adversity throughout his collegiate career as a member of the Texas Longhorns football team.
In four years, Jeffcoat suffered three devastating injuries and 20 painful losses. Or is it three painful injuries and 20 devastating losses?
Whatever the adjective may be, the noun is adversity.
While on the "40 Acres," Jeffcoat had three defensive coordinators. He's found recent success under Greg Robinson. He made adjustments with Manny Diaz. And he spent his first year with Will Muschamp, the defensive coach that recruited him.
In his freshman year, Jeffcoat played in the first six games. He recorded half-sack in the season opener against Rice. His first full sack came three weekends later in a shocking home loss to UCLA. Then came the Oklahoma game.
Jeffcoat had been making an impact on the defensive front. Though down 21-10 in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns were in fingertips' length of grabbing the momentum and making a comeback. It was 3rd-and-20, and the Longhorns defense made a huge stop.
But Jeffcoat's emotions got the best of him. See embedded video.
The freshman was flagged for a late hit on an Oklahoma lineman well after the play. Even though Jeffcoat's hot temper was quickly cooled by the Texas coaching staff (one of the last times it would be seen in his career), the Longhorns lost momentum and the game.
Four games later Jeffcoat suffered his first injury that would cost him the next four. It was a sprained ankle, something that had bothered Jeffcoat while at Plano West High School. The injury suffered in a win over No. 5 Nebraska subtracted depth from a well-balanced defense littered with NFL prospects.
Jeffcoat faced his first setback while the team severely failed to reach expectations. A 5-7 season record brought changes to the Texas coaching staff that went to the BCS National Championship in the year before.
In his second year, Jeffcoat welcomed new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. It took time for the defensive end to adjust to Diaz's defensive style. In the seventh game of the season, Jeffcoat recorded his first sack.
From then he made huge strides.
He went on to record six sacks in the next six games and had 10 tackles against Missouri. But two games later, he ruptured his left pectoral muscle in the historic 27-25 win over Texas A&M.
It was his second collegiate injury, yet it didn't slow him down. With a bum shoulder and surgery looming at the end of the year, Jeffcoat picked up two sacks in a Holiday Bowl win against California showing his true grit, what the NFL is made of.
He understood adversity. It wasn't going to be an easy road ahead, but the man could handle it. The man did handle it.
The third season had arrived for the 6'5", 245-pound then-junior from Dallas, Texas. He was flourishing in 2012, recording four sacks in six games. He even recovered a key fumble for a touchdown in a matchup against Geno Smith and the West Virginia Mountaineers (see embedded video).
But in the next game, the Sooners slowed him down. And in that defeat, the Longhorns lost Jeffcoat to another shoulder injury, this time a right pectoral rupture, according to a team press release. His third injury in as many years. He was out for the remainder of the season.
Jeffcoat was projected preseason to go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, per NFL analysts Rob Rang and Dan Brugler of CBS Sports, highlighted in a July 2012 article by Christian Corona of SportsDay DFW. Surely Jeffcoat was NFL-ready. But the injury was another step back, and Jeffcoat would return to school for his senior year.
In three years with the Longhorns, Jeffcoat had three injuries, and the team lost 16 losses. He could have packed it up and transferred. Look at former Longhorn quarterback Garrett Gilbert from the 2009 recruiting class. He left the program after a shoulder injury ended his third season in Austin.
After the struggles and injury, Gilbert decided to transfer. A statement was released by Gilbert and reported by Chuck Carlton and Kate Hairopoulos of SportsDay DFW saying, "I just think I’m at a point in my life where I need a fresh start."
Jeffcoat faced that same adversity. But he stayed put in Austin further highlighting his mental toughness and physical strength for NFL scouts to take note of.
"Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records," William Arthur Ward.
Now with one game remaining in his senior year, Jeffcoat has 73 total tackles and 12 sacks.
Comparing that to Longhorn greats in their last year: 31 more tackles and a half-sack more than former All-American and NFL Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo; five more tackles and three more sacks than second-round pick and current Oakland Raider Lamarr Houston; 36 more tackles and three more sacks than the current Vikings defensive end Brian Robison; and three tackles less and 3.5 sacks more than current NFL veteran and former first-team All-Big 12 defensive end Cory Redding.
Jeffcoat also racked up the end-of-the-season awards. He was named an Associated Press first-team All-American; he won the co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year; he earned a first-team All-Big 12; he was elected as a Walter Camp first-team All-American; and he was named winner of the 2013 Hendricks Award given to the best defensive end in the country.
But the statistics and honors earned don't stack up close enough to the strength and knowledge that Jeffcoat gained during his time in Austin. He was able to accomplish all the accolades in a stellar senior season after fighting off three aggravating injuries from the three years before. While some players diminish in the face of adversity, Jeffcoat fought it and won.
And finally, Jeffcoat graduated from the University of Texas in three-and-a-half years as he announced the outstanding accomplishment via Twitter.
As an early graduate, the Wonderlic test should be a breeze for Jeffcoat come the 2014 NFL combine.
If there's anything to take away from Jeffcoat's career filled with adversity at the University of Texas, it's that he's ready to make the next leap to the NFL gridiron.
Jackson Jeffcoat is currently projected by CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout to go in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. With a solid Alamo bowl and a strong NFL combine, he could boost himself into the first round.
Stats via Texassports.com
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For college football coaches, winning recruiting battles on their home turf is essential. There are very few things that frustrate coaches and fans alike more than losing elite talent to an out-of-state suitor, and the logic makes sense.
With national signing day looming on the horizon, there's one recruit Brady Hoke and co. have to land: defensive tackle Malik McDowell of Southfield, Mich.
The 4-star recruit (and 33rd overall, according to Rivals.com) has great size at 6'7", 290 pounds, and as this film against crosstown rival Cass Tech shows, he's rock solid against the run and can get in the backfield in a hurry. The Wolverines rank 28th in the nation in rushing yards allowed, and while they've done a decent job slowing down opposing runners, adding a player like McDowell could propel them to the next level.
Allen Trieu of Scout.com describes McDowell as having "a rare combination of size and athletic ability. He's a pure playmaker, disruptor and pass rusher. He has to continue to develop, but has an elite set of tools." Speaking of pass-rushing, the Wolverines could use a little help on that front.
They rank just 69th in team sacks this season with an average of 1.9 per game, and they've been even worse in team tackles for a loss, where they currently rank 85th. They've consistently struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks without a blitz, which has to be a major concern for Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
If Michigan can snag McDowell, he'd join fellow 2014 defensive tackle and 4-star recruit Bryan Mone of Salt Lake City, Utah. Weighing in at a whopping 338 pounds with surprising lateral mobility, Mone and McDowell could become a menacing tandem in the middle.
The existing interior of the defensive line that will be battling for playing time next year is made up of nose tackles Ondre Pipkins and Richard Ash and defensive tackles Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Henry Poggi and Chris Wormley. It's worth noting that Mattison's base defense, a 4-3 under, does have a nose tackle while a standard 4-3 doesn't.
They'll be a very young bunch in the middle, but a standout like McDowell could make a significant impact right away.
McDowell would also add much-needed depth to the defensive line and soften the blow of losing Da'Shawn Hand to Alabama. His commitment to Michigan would also move them up a few spots in the national recruiting race; ESPN.com (subscription required) currently has their 2014 class ranked 10th. Recruiting doesn't always directly foreshadow success, but Ohio State (subscription required) currently sits in the fifth spot. Surely the Wolverines staff would love to leapfrog them.
As you'd expect, McDowell has a long list of major programs chasing his services. He's already visited Alabama and Florida and has scheduled visits to Ohio State, LSU and Florida State in January. Michigan State is also high on his list.
The good news for Michigan fans is that 247Sports.com's "Crystal Ball" feature gives the Wolverines an 82 percent chance of McDowell choosing Michigan. There's no doubt that landing McDowell would be a huge offseason win for the Wolverines.
Don't miss the chance to watch McDowell in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio, Texas.
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