Note: The following appears in the NC State football gameday program.
Clemson has always had a storied tradition of great linebacker play that has haunted opposing backfields. From Levon Kirkland to Anthony Simmons to the program’s first Butkus Award winner, Isaiah Simmons, the Tiger defense has been spearheaded by great linebackers for many decades.
This year is no different with Trenton Simpson leading one of the most talented linebacker rooms that Dabo Swinney has had as head coach.
In 2021, Simpson tallied 78 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks on his way to an All-ACC selection by Pro Football Focus and Phil Steele. This past offseason, Simpson moved from playing on the outside, where he thrived as a hybrid linebacker and excelled in coverage and in run defense, to the inside, where he believes it will help him take the next step in his career development.
“Moving into the box, I let my speed takeover and play ball. It is all about reaction and trusting my keys, reading the offensive line and letting my abilities take over. Using my speed and strength, I know I am faster than those offensive linemen, so I can’t let them get their hands on me. That is what my coaches preach…use what God gave me and use it to my advantage. That is why I think I have done so well in the box.”
Moving from the outside of the tackle box to the inside is a different game of football, especially in the modern age of the sport. With the evolution of offenses, second-level players have to deal with run-pass options.
“Playing inside the box is more natural for me, because it’s ‘Football 101’ now reading the offensive guards. At my old position, I was covering skill guys who I was much bigger than. Now, I am just using my abilities and recognizing my keys.”
When Simpson arrived on campus, he played alongside two experienced linebackers in James Skalski and Baylon Spector, who have helped Simpson become a leader on the Clemson defense.
“It was amazing to have the chance to learn from their leadership as they took me under their wing. They showed me how everything should be done and they showed me what needs to be done after practice.
“I learned that there is stuff that is required, but to be great, you have to do more on the side, whether that is watching film or getting extra reps in the weight room. I learned how to stay disciplined, stay true to myself and be humble.”
With the departure of Skalski and Spector, Simpson has taken the role of the leader in the linebacker room, which is loaded with blue-chip talent.
“I am now taking the leadership role…the defense looks to me for the calls. It was great playing with Skalski and Spector, but they passed the torch onto me to be the leader.”
In December 2019, Simpson was offered a scholarship to play at Clemson while he was in the indoor practice facility. A message telling him that he was offered a scholarship displayed on the videoboard.
“It was a dream come true. I always told my mom that is where I wanted to go. Once I got the scholarship offer, I promised my mom that I was going to make the best of that scholarship. I was going to come in and be remembered at Clemson forever. That was the kind of impact I wanted to have on this program. I work really hard and I wanted to come to Clemson and play with the best.”
It is safe to say that Simpson has lived up to the promise of making the most of his scholarship offer in the indoor practice facility. He has excelled, not just on the field, but off it as well. In 2021, he was named to the All-ACC Academic team and also serves as a P.A.W. Journey ambassador.
Football plays a big role in Simpson’s life, but family is what means the most to the junior from Charlotte, N.C.
“Family is everything to me. My mom is why I go so hard. I want to make my family proud.
“My mom raised me, and I want to make her proud. She raised a very high-character kid. It is huge for my family that I am graduating in December, because I am the first person in my family to graduate from college.”
Simpson is making his family as well as the Clemson Family proud, as he is a prime example of the culture in the Clemson program.