Jacoby Simpson was looking for a second chance to play major college football last July when East Carolina defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Blake Harrell came calling.
Simpson, a linebacker, had just enrolled at a Texas junior college in Cisco after playing two seasons at Texas Christian University. The 6-foot, 225-pounder had seen action in 11 games over those two seasons with the Horned Frogs, but wasn’t happy with his career progression. So after playing in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2019, Simpson decided to enter his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal last November.
“I just felt like I was going through the motions at TCU,” Simpson said. “I don’t want to say I was wasting my time, but I was wasting their time is what I really feel like. I was going through the motions every day, doing the same thing and not feeling like I’m moving up the depth chart. Being part of that football business, I felt like a pawn piece.”
Despite attracting scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools such as Arkansas, Arizona State, Kansas, Louisville and others as a prep senior at MacArthur High School in Houston, Simpson received limited interest initially upon entering the transfer portal. Eventually Tulsa, Southern Methodist and Texas Tech would make contact, but East Carolina was the only school to extend a scholarship offer in late July.
Simpson accepted that offer September 4th to become the 11th member of ECU’s recruiting Class of 2021.
The verbal commitment adds another athlete from the football-frenzied world of Texas high school football to the Pirate program.
Simpson grew up just north of downtown Houston in the community of Aldine where despite the popularity of football he wasn’t initially interested in playing the sport.
“I was just enjoying being a kid,” Simpson said. “But my siblings and my cousins were all into sports, so I felt like I had to play, not knowing what it would turn into. I was maybe 11 or 12 when I started playing football. I just started playing for the fun of it and killing time.
“But then you get into high school and Texas high school football is pretty serious. Friday nights, depending on who we were playing, the stands would be packed with 5,000 more more people and the whole crowd was into the game.”
Simpson made the MacArthur varsity as a freshman, working at running back and linebacker. He was still just playing for fun until college coaches started showing up at MacArthur to recruit him during the 2016 season.
“I really had to change my whole life,” Simpson said. “I started eating like a college player, started studying and being in my books more, and started paying attention to the politics of college football and the business of it.”
Scholarship offers started to roll in as Simpson’s senior season unfolded in 2017. In the middle of the campaign, Simpson decided to accept an offer to play at Arizona State in October. But after head coach Todd Graham was fired on Nov. 26 just hours after leading the Sun Devils to a victory against rival Arizona, Simpson backed off that pledge and re-opened his recruitment.
Meanwhile, on the field Simpson was enjoying a monster season at MacArthur. Despite having the year limited to eight games due to Hurricane Harvey, Simpson racked up 116 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, eight sacks and intercepted two passes to earn second-team all-district honors.
Texas Christian would ultimately secure Simpson’s commitment and he saw playing time on special teams in the final three games of his freshman season.
“By the time I got to my first university, TCU, it was kind of a big transition,” Simpson said. “I was somewhat prepared, but it was still a big transition playing Power Five (conference) football.”
Simpson played in seven games in 2019, making one tackle for the Horned Frogs before opting to find somewhere else to play. When nothing materialized immediately, he decided to enroll at Cisco College in hopes of generating more interest with a strong performance at the junior college level in 2020.
But before he could suit up for Cisco, COVID-19 postponed the junior college season and the Pirates stepped forward with an offer.
So now Simpson plans to graduate from Cisco in December and enroll at ECU in January. In between, he expects to put on the pads for some scrimmage action being allowed this fall at the junior college level.
“We’re going to essentially do our spring ball this fall, so we’ll get that competitive action in pads and do a little thumping,” Simpson said. “But I’ve been working out every day to stay in shape. Football-wise, I’ll be right on track when I get to East Carolina in the spring.”
And what does Simpson hope to add to ECU’s linebacker corps?
“The first thing I feel like my instincts are pretty good,” Simpson said. “I feel like I see plays well. I run pretty well, so I can run with the tight ends or with the running backs. I’m strong enough to take on blocks. Going to TCU, I needed to work on my pass coverage. But after two years there I now think that’s become one of my strengths.
“I am grateful for going to TCU. They … taught me a lot of things I still use in my life every day. Going to East Carolina, I think I can take the stuff I learned at TCU over there and do even better at East Carolina.”