STARKVILLE — Jeffery Simmons knows time is of the essence.
As he was considering whether 2018 would be his last season as a member of the Mississippi State football team, the last few weeks weighed on his mind.
“It was the right time because I want to go down there and focus on the bowl game,” Simmons said. “I don’t want to go down there with, ‘Are you leaving? Are you leaving?’ It’s the right time. No distractions for me or my teammates.”
The right time arrived Thursday, when the defensive tackle from Macon, who is widely projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft this spring, announced he will enter the draft and forego his senior season.
The most recent mock drafts from CBS Sports, ESPN, USA Today, and SB Nation have Simmons going in the first round. Before that, though, Simmons said he will play when No. 18 MSU (8-4) takes on Iowa (8-4) at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019 (ESPN2), in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
“Our big thing is to focus on the bowl game and have fun while I can,” Simmons said. “After that, everything’s business.”
Simmons has terrorized the Southeastern Conference the last two seasons. This season, his 14 1/2 tackles for a loss and six quarterback hurries helped him earn third-team All-America honors from The Associated Press.
Expectations always were high for Simmons, who was considered the best player in the state coming out of Noxubee County High School, according to the 247 Sports Composite.
Simmons didn’t disappoint. He will end his career among MSU’s top 10 in career tackles for a loss. One tackle for a loss in the Outback Bowl will move him into the top five in school history for single-season tackles for a loss.
“When he was in ninth grade, I remember him coming to me and saying, ‘Coach I’m going to be better than my brother,’ ” Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. “I remember telling him, ‘Those are big shoes because your brother’s pretty darn good.’ ”
Simmons’ brother, Dylan Bradley, was a standout for the Tigers who went on to play on the defensive line at Southern Mississippi. As a senior at Noxubee County, Bradley helped the Tigers go 16-0 and win a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State championship. He went on to make 190 tackles (96 solo) in 46 games during his four-year college career, which earned him a spot on the roster of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
Simmons’ maturation into one of the nation’s top defensive linemen isn’t surprising to MSU defensive line coach Brian Baker.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed to have been a part of his life the last three years,” Baker said. “From a football standpoint, he’s easy to coach because he’s passionate about football. It’s been really fun seeing the way he’s matured, inside and outside of the locker room.
“He’s got the pro temperament. He’s a guy who would play the game for free. Fortunately for him, he won’t have to.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay projects Simmons to be the 16th pick in the NFL draft. Last year’s 16th pick, Tremaine Edmunds, received a $7.2-million signing bonus.
For now, though, Simmons is focused on ending the 2018 season and his career the right way.
Simmons takes pride in the fact MSU’s defense is second in the nation in yards per play allowed (4.14) and first in rushing touchdowns allowed (five), passing touchdowns allowed (seven), and scoring defense (12 points allowed per game).
He wants to finish that job, and he believes the defense will.
“You can feel the energy at practice,” Simmons said. “We’re ready to take that field one more time. Just the ability to take that field with those guys one more time is going to be one of the best feelings.
“We’re the best defense in the country, and I’m ready to wrap that up this season.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson