- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Freshmen, no matter their stars, ranking or hype, typically are treated initially as afterthoughts by those who had stars, rankings and hype before them.
Respect, as the adage goes, has to be earned. Desmond Jackson earned his at 6 a.m. in the summer of 2011. That was when he laid down on the bench press and set the bar high for not just every freshman but every player on the Texas team.
The defensive tackle put up 20-plus reps of 225 pounds that morning. Strength coach Bennie Wylie put that number on the wall for the veterans to see.
"I remember coming in and seeing somebody from the 6 o'clock group had done something like 20 reps and was like, 'Whoa, who is this kid?' " said offensive lineman Trey Hopkins. "And then from then on he just kept going."
In fact, it was the rest of the defensive linemen who had to follow Jackson as he went. He was the only Texas player who could bench 400-plus pounds in 2011. Now he is the only Texas player who can bench 525 pounds.
"Nobody is there yet," Jackson said.
That the other players are gaining is a step forward for a defensive line that previously did not have the strength to compete in the Big 12. Now, at least, Texas is no longer resigned to being pushed around at the point of attack. Instead the Longhorns have started to push back.
But the biggest obstacles, the teams of the Big 12 Conference, lie ahead. Conquering those obstacles starts up front with Jackson and the defensive line.
"I want to see our toughness," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Right now we have shown some toughness in the line of scrimmage. We have been talking about it for three years. We're finally showing some signs."
That much was clear in the first half of the Sept. 15 game against Ole Miss. Texas posted five sacks, all from defensive linemen, and forced an interception. Not that anyone on the defensive line basked in those accomplishments. Instead the 24 points given up by the defense have been more of the focus. Special teams allowed seven.
"We could've had a lot more tackles for loss," Jackson said. "We could've had some picks, and we just had so many missed opportunities. We just have to go in there, keep working and strive forward."
And Texas has more guys making strides. There are eight viable options along the defensive line. Every one of those players will be used against Oklahoma State.
"It helps when you can bring those fresh bodies," defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. "It will wear them out."
It helps, too, when there are a variety of styles to try to block at the defensive tackle position.
Texas' grab bag features Brandon Moore, a bull-rush player, Chris Whaley, a converted running back with quick feet and solid hand placement, Ashton Dorsey, a veteran of the Big 12, and, maybe the most difficult to defend, Jackson, who is short on height and long on strength.
"Being a shorter guy, he has naturally low pad level and he does even better than that by keeping his knees bent and he has a very good leg drive," Hopkins said. "And he is a strong guy and he knows that so he uses that to his advantage."
But Jackson's game is about more than just strength. He boasts some speed and quickness as well.
"You can't just say, 'Oh, this guy will try and blow me up.' Because he will run around you real quick," Jeffcoat said. "He is a big, strong guy and a lot of people know that, but he is also very quick and that makes it hard."
Added Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, "He is really made for what we talk about in terms of penetrating and getting across the line of scrimmage."
Jackson's mom has known that for nearly 16 years. He went from crawling to running at age 3, and from steadying himself to just flat running over things.
"I used to just run around at full speed, and she just started calling me 'Tank,' and the name just stuck when I started playing football," Jackson said.
That he happens to be built like a tank and plays defensive tackle was at the crux of more than a few jokes when he first got to Texas.
"He got a little bit of teasing," Hopkins said.
That is, he did until that first 6 a.m. workout, when Jackson went to work on the bench press.
"No one made fun of him after that," Hopkins said. "He has earned that name."
15hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler