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Six Things to Know About New Jets OL 'Big John' Simpson

He Overcame Difficult Upbringing Through Strength, Hard Work, Personality: 'He Was a Teammate for Everybody'

Baltimore Ravens guard John Simpson (76) in action during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Several forces have been at work shaping newly signed Jets guard John Simpson into the player and person he has become. Here are five things we didn't know about Simpson, who has signed on for his fifth NFL season and his first making a home for himself on the Green & White offensive line.

Forged in a South Carolina Crucible
Simpson grew up in a tough neighborhood in North Charleston, SC, which had it all — guns, fights, crime. His father and his grandfather spent time in prison. He and a brother were raised by his mother, Keyonna Snipe. "My mom is my rock, man," Simpson said in a 2019 feature on "I would do anything for her and I know she would do anything for me."

Simpson pitched in every way he could. After his grandfather, John Sr., got out of prison and started a lawn care business, John would mow lawns to earn money to buy his school clothes. At 15, he enrolled in a program, "Teach the Need," that enabled him to become the first high school student to land a job at the upscale Halls Chophouse in downtown Charleston, coming in on Saturday after being banged up under the Friday night lights, uniform pressed, his presentation skills impeccable.

"Jonathan had a smile that lit up the room," said Tommy Hall, the restaurant owner and later Simpson's mentor. "Great character. He was a teammate for everybody."

The Eye of the Tiger
The family moved so that Simpson could attend Fort Dorchester HS, where he had an outstanding scholastic career. When it came time for college, Simpson looked at Florida and LSU, but he stayed home, went to Clemson, and began to build his football résumé.

He played four seasons for the Tigers, contributing to three national championship berths and two national championships. Clemson's total record while he was there was 55-4. In his final two seasons as the LG starter, the Tigers were 29-1 and won the '18 national title.

One of His Strengths Is ... His Strength
When Simpson (6-4 and weight listed anywhere frm 321 to 340) participated in the 2020 NFL Combine, most of his test times and distances were middle of the pack for the guard class. But one area he excelled at was the 225-pound bench press. He punched out 34 reps on the bench. That was the third-most reps not only among the offensive linemen that year but for the entire combine. And the total was tied for fifth-most by all participants over the last four Combines combined. analyst Lance Zierlein captured Simpson's strengths in a few well-chiseled phrases, saying he was "very big and very strong" and that he was a "broad, well-built snowplow of a guard with the traits and power to turn a crease into a full-fledged running lane." Indeed, his Instagram handle is bigjohn74.

A Stand-Up Guy
Add to all Simpson's on-field qualities one off-field trait. The big man has got a sense of humor.

He demonstrated that in representing Clemson at the 2019 ACC Kickoff, a.k.a. conference media day. Tigers HC Dabo Swinney heard it from national reporters that his then-QB, Trevor Lawrence, would not be the team's player rep at the kickoff. So Simpson stepped in, slapped on a long-haired blond wig to imitate Lawrence's flowing locks, and showed up at media day as what @ClemsonFB said was Lawrence's "stunt double."

"I think I'm doing pretty good if you ask me," he told at the time about his tribute to his QB. "My hair is way better than his. I have more flow, and it's more curly. I'm a natural."

He Has a Message to Impart
After his short, violent, and hopefully rewarding pro football career is over, Simpson knows some of the things he'd like to do with the rest of his life. He has said he wants to be a social worker or a counselor. He still visits the North Charleston, SC, neighborhood where he grew up and seeks to show kids there how hard work and clear thinking can help set the stage for their future endeavors.

That's not just empty talk. In an era when many pro players don't get their diplomas and more than a few return to college during or after their football careers to finish their degree work, Simpson graduated from Clemson in 2019 with his degree in sociology.

One of a Kind
Beneath it all, Simpson strikes people (other than NFL defenders) as a swell human being, a sweetheart of a guy.

As Steve LaPrad, his Fort Dorchester coach, said in a 2018 story in, "I'm sure if you ask 100 people who know him, all 100 would like him. I don't know anybody that's an enemy of John Simpson. He's just one of those guys. He's one in a million."

Aaron Rodgers and the Jets like that math, but they'd be OK if Simpson can become just one of five who will protect Rodgers, open lanes for Breece Hall and the ground game, and help his new NFL team win games.

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