While there’s little doubt Isaiah Jacobs is an outstanding high school football player, Tulsan Mike Simmonds sees a different side of the Owasso High senior.
Simmonds is impressed with the way Jacobs treats his adult son. Drew Simmonds was born with cerebral palsy and significant heart defects.
Though ambulatory as a Union senior in 2004, Drew is now confined largely to a wheelchair, has limited control of his motor skills and is unable to speak because his tongue and vocal chords are paralyzed.
But he also has a tenacious zest for living and is a huge football fan. His favorite players are Baker Mayfield and Dak Prescott.
“He’s a fiend for sports and always has been,” his father said. “He just lives, eats and breathes it.”
And he wouldn’t miss a Rams home game. Drew watches with his parents, Mike and Jill Simmonds, from the north end zone in Owasso Stadium, and Jacobs acknowledges him with a high-five or a fist bump every time he scores a touchdown.
It first happened in Jacobs’ sophomore season. After scoring on a 33-yard run in a 55-10 win over Putnam North, Jacobs said something nudged him from the inside.
“It was just a feeling I had. I knew (Drew) was there and something told me to give him some love. So I turned around and gave him a high-five,” he said.
The practice continues to this day. Jacobs has scored 17 touchdowns over three seasons and is on pace to be the No. 1 Rams’ rushing leader for the second straight year. Owasso faces No. 3 Union at 7:30 p.m. Friday to open district play.
Jacobs, younger brother of former McLain standout and 2019 NFL first-round draft pick Josh Jacobs, said it “makes me feel amazing” when he makes Drew happy.
“It always brightens my day, especially when you’re playing a game and getting tired. It picks you up,” Jacobs said. “And knowing (football) is something he loves so much and isn’t able to do for himself, I feel like he’s able to play through me.”
Owasso coach Bill Blankenship said, “This isn’t something Isaiah has done to get anybody’s attention. He knows Drew loves our Rams, and instead of walking past him, he’s going to acknowledge him and make sure he feels included.”
Mike Simmonds is impressed that Jacobs’ attention to his son started before he knew about Drew’s ties to the Rams coaching staff.
Drew’s older brother, Zac, is a co-offensive coordinator. Blankenship was the famed Union coach when Drew was involved with the Redskins program during his high school years.
“I asked Zac, and he said he hadn’t talked to Isaiah about any of it,” Mike Simmonds said.
Drew was a trainer/volunteer on the Redskins’ 2002 championship team and often went to the pre-game coin toss with the co-captains. He was best friends with defensive end Nathan Peterson and now-deceased running back Spencer McIllwain, among others.
“He was a big part of that era,” Blankenship said. “He was at every practice, every day. Our kids thought Drew was as much a teammate as they were.”
Jacobs is one of the state’s most heavily recruited senior football players, unlike his older brother was. Josh Jacobs received little notice out of high school before signing with Alabama, which he later helped win a national championship.
So far this season, Isaiah Jacobs has rushed for 423 yards and four touchdowns, has a receiving TD and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry, helping lead the Rams (3-0) to a No. 23 national ranking by USA Today.
He knows what it means to struggle. That may explain in part his positive reaction to Drew Simmonds, who has seen so much trouble of his own.
Much has been made of Jacobs’ and his brothers’ backgrounds in north Tulsa — he moved from Central to Owasso before his sophomore football season — and how his father, Marty, struggled to make a home for them while going through a devastating divorce.
At times, home meant moving from one hotel to the next — or living in a car.
“Yes, we went through a lot of adversity. I’ve seen what it means to have the utilities not turned on, or having to wear the same clothes every day,” he said.
“But you know the crazy part? Because my dad was always there, everything felt kind of peaceful. We didn’t focus on the cars or the hotels. Because he loved and cared for us so much, he made it feel like home, wherever we were.”
Mike Simmonds said you can tell a lot about people by the way they react to his son in a wheelchair.
“Some are turned off or disgusted by him. Others warm up to him and you can tell they have a heart,” he said.
Jacobs passes the test, Simmonds said.
“I just wanted to take the time to say that with all the publicity and recruiting he’s getting, the kid has an incredible amount of character,” he said.