JUSTIN, Texas — There are few times when the athletic future of a kid in junior high becomes a major topic at a high school. Northwest High School coach Bill Poe remembers such a conversation a few years ago.
The subject was whether eighth-grader Darrell Simpson would focus strictly on basketball as his freshman year arrived. It was a legitimate debate.
Luckily for Poe, and Simpson for that matter, Simpson decided he would remain a multi-sport athlete. It was that path that led him to sign with Oklahoma in December. The 4-star tackle was one of the vital pieces in another stellar recruiting class.
“It wasn’t that hard,” Simpson told DieHards. “I always played basketball and football. My dad [Darrell Simpson Sr.] never wanted me to play just one sport. He wanted to play several sports and learn how to work with each sport.”
Ironically, it was on the basketball court that Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh took notice of Simpson.
“I think it was going into his sophomore year and I went to watch him practice basketball,” Bedenbaugh said. “For a big guy and even at that young of an age, he was a really good athlete. He did not look awkward out there on the court.”
Simpson is hard to miss in any venue at 6-foot-7 and weighing 330 pounds with the ability to move like someone much lighter.
Poe never pressured Simpson to dedicate himself to becoming a full-time football player. He saw the way basketball helped him become a more fluid athlete and that translated to him becoming a four-year starter at tackle at Northwest High School. In two decades of coaching players, Simpson is the lone four-year starter Poe has coached.
“I wanted him to know there was a very bright future for him in the game of football,” Poe said. “If he worked and improved, the sky is the limit. It’s not only being able to play on Saturdays but being able to play on Sundays.”
Darrell Simpson doesn’t beg for attention
Simpson was a late addition to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl roster in January. There were reasons that went beyond talent. Simpson wasn’t a constant presence at evaluation camps each spring. Basketball often got in the way.
That never stopped Simpson from piling up interest from Power 5 programs. Besides nearly every school in the Big 12, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Oregon wanted him.
“When I went to the All-American game, one writer said I was the most unexpected person to be there. I got the invite at the last minute,” Simpson said. “Some of the writers would say I didn’t get invited to the game earlier because I didn’t talk to them enough or I wouldn’t post more stuff about where I was and everything.”
Simpson isn’t a braggart. He has a Twitter page (@king_simpson34). But very little about his accomplishments appears there. He announced his commitment to Oklahoma on Aug. 12, 2017. It happened to be his birthday.
That doesn’t surprise Poe.
“He has a good personality, but he’s not an out-front guy. He doesn’t need the attention,” the coach said. “He’s fun to be around. He’s great to have a conversation with. Kids love him because he’s kind of teddy bear in that sense.”
Oklahoma felt right
The drive from Justin to Norman, Okla., is just a little more than 2 hours on Interstate 35. To Simpson, there were other reasons that Norman seemed like the place for him.
His mother is from Stillwater. His parents met in college at Langston (Okla.) University. Oklahoma State was one of the schools that pursued Simpson. Although, that opportunity ended when Oklahoma State changed offensive line coaches following Simpson’s junior season.
Oklahoma felt steady. Bedenbaugh’s straightforwardness felt reassuring. He sensed that Norman was the place he could reach his potential.
Simpson didn’t make up his mind on a snap decision. There were a lot of questions. A conversation with Simpson is a two-way street. He has an inquisitive nature.
“Don’t go in there thinking just because this coach is the first person you’ve met that he’s the best coach in the world,” Simpson said. “You need to ask other guys opinions. Always ask guys that went to that school or played for him what they thought. Just do your homework.”
It was the opinions of players he trusted — current guard Tyrese McKinney and safety Robert Barnes — that told him his senses were telling him the truth.
Where will Simpson fit in at Oklahoma? He’s the perfect fit at tackle. He’s big, athletic and plays with a mean streak.
But Poe thinks about that initial conversation with Simpson and his parents about Simpson’s talent and his future and gives out a little chuckle.
“Thank god he didn’t go straight basketball,” he said.