MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Six weeks into his tenure as West Virginia’s defensive line coach, Andrew Jackson is gearing up for the start of spring football.
While Jackson has the luxury of guiding a unit that returns several proven and promising players, he will evaluate the group based on the present.
“We’ll see how it goes through spring to get a wholesale evaluation,” Jackson said. “I want to give all the guys a clean slate even if it’s Dante (Stills) or Akheem (Mesidor) and see what they do without me putting pressure on them or making any type of depth chart. Let the guys do the talking with their pads and then make decisions going into the season.”
With Mesidor and Stills returning up front, expectations will be high for the group despite the departure of Darius Stills, last year’s Big 12 Conference defensive lineman of the year. Mesidor was an all-Big 12 second-team pick as a freshman after recording a team-high five sacks, while Stills was all conference honorable mention after leading the team with 10.5 tackles for loss.
“Akheem is a great talent,” Jackson said. “The sky’s the limit for that kid. He could be a blue chipper, have his name on the walls here, set records and do really well for himself at the next level. He’s an extremely driven kid and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him.
“(Darius) is going to be putting the finishing touches on his college career, which he’s getting excited to do. For him, it’s making sure he repeats the same year and gets a little bit better.”
Redshirt seniors Jeffery Pooler Jr., and VanDarius Cowan are also notable returning contributors who should aid Jackon’s group in 2021.
Unlike ShaDon Brown, another recent add to West Virginia’s defensive coaching staff, Jackson didn’t have an extensive past with Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown. But after hearing positive reviews of Brown’s program, Jackson couldn’t pass on the chance to coach at West Virginia.
He left behind a one year stint as Old Dominion’s d-line coach without coaching a game for the Monarchs, who opted out of the 2020 season as a result of the pandemic. Blake Seiler, WVU’s special teams coordinator/inside linebackers coach in 2019, is the current defensive coordinator at ODU.
“Coach Seiler basically told me this was a huge family environment and a place he loved to have his wife and kids around,” Jackson said. “I have a fiancee and I’m hopefully getting married next summer. He told me that coach Brown does a good job of making everybody’s family feel welcome and taking care of his coaching staff.”
Before going to ODU, Jackson coached the defensive tackles at James Madison in 2019, was a defensive quality control coach at Mississippi State in 2018 and the defensive line coach at Fordham the year prior. He also spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Penn State after starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater of LIU Post and Stony Brook.
“I wanted to be a school teacher,” Jackson said. “When I finished college around 2011-2012, it was hard to get a job in Long Island. There was kind of an economic downturn and folks weren’t retiring. My college coach Bryan Collins gave me a chance to come back, be a GA and get my masters in counseling or special education to make myself more marketable as a teacher. I got out there in practice that first fall and I’ve been coaching since.”
When Neal Brown altered defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley’s duties to oversee outside linebackers in place of the defensive line, it left a void for a d-line coach on his staff. Brown had heard about Jackson and the two had no shortage of connections through Jackson working with Seiler, Bill Legg while at Mississippi State and Sean Spencer while at Penn State.
“A lot of guys that I have a lot of respect for and I’m close with spoke really highly of him not only as a teacher, but as somebody that can develop players,” Brown said.
With an extensive past in New York, Jackson will be tasked with recruiting New Jersey into New York City and south of Washington, D.C. into Richmond for the Mountaineers.
“Where he’s recruited and where he’s from, I thought was a really good match for us,” Brown said. “We want to be more involved with New Jersey into New York City and that’s his home area. We have to be more productive in the DC area down into Richmond and those are both areas that he has a lot of experience in. That’s the thought process that grabbed my attention with him and then having the opportunity to spend some time with him, I thought he was a great fit.”