THE FLATS – Desmond Branch knows about life on the inside line and he’s liked it.
Yet, he found even greater satisfaction in the prospect of finding himself on the outside for 2018.
Branch likes the prospect of moving his talents from defensive tackle to defensive end in Georgia Tech’s new 3-4 defense.
“The philosophy is ‘Just go! If you can beat ‘em, beat ‘em.’ I feel like that plays into my strengths very well. That’s why I’m really excited,” said the redshirt senior defensive end from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “The way coach (Jerome) Riase, my D-line coach, is describing every position, it’s a dream situation I would be in. I feel like this is a perfect situation for me. I’m expecting big things from myself.”
Branch has already done some big things but feels the move is conducive to him doing a lot more. Last year, his first full season with the Yellow Jackets, he recorded 20 tackles (12 solo), 3.5 of them for loss, with a sack.
That was working inside. He feels lining up on the outside, letting things rip, puts him in the perfect place in the perfect defense.
“It fits my body type, how I play,” said the 6-3, 270-pounder.
But being settled in is kind of something new and refreshing for Branch.
The first New Mexico native ever to suit up for Georgia Tech, Branch redshirted his freshman year at the University of New Mexico, transferred to Trinity Valley Community College, where he starred as a redshirt freshman (32 total tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and a team-leading 7.0 sacks), then enrolled at Georgia Tech in January of 2016.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, he saw action in nine games, recording five tackles, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. Last year was even more solid, as he started all 11 games at defensive tackle.
He believes he saved the best for last.
A good omen was what Branch saw in viewing defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s system on film during the off-season.
“The defensive linemen were just causing havoc,” he said. “Their job was to cause havoc and it made the defensive linemen great. Everybody where (Woody) has gone, someone on the defensive line has gone all-conference or been an all-American. That really pops out to me. That gets me excited.”
The potential to thrive as part of this new defense has added more fuel to fire up Branch, who already had plenty of incentive preparing for his final collegiate season. He really wants to use 2018 to get rid of the memories of 2017.
“No one was satisfied with what happened last year,” he said. “I wasn’t satisfied. Everyone coming back wasn’t satisfied. We think, with this new defense, we can shock some people. They will be shocked but we will be expecting it because we’re going to be practicing it and everyone on the defense is excited. I feel like we’re going to make some noise this year.”
Branch likes the depth up front, which includes experienced DL’s Anree Saint-Amour, Brandon Adams, Brentavious Glanton, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Tyler Merriweather and up-and-coming underclassmen Chris Martin, Antwan Owens, and T.K. Chimedza, amongst others. That push from each other during spring practice should result in a big push up front when games begin.
“I think this is probably the deepest we’re going to be,” Branch said. “I feel like we can go three-deep in every spot. Definitely four-deep at the nose guard because that’s a consistent battle. So is end. There’s nothing but competition here on the defensive line. So everyone on the defensive line is feeling really good.”
Branch came into spring feeling really good about himself, using the offseason to address the needs he and Riase felt needed addressing so as to fit into this new role during the off-season.
“Just strength-wise and mobility-wise we’re attacking a lot,” Branch said. “If we’re attacking a lot, that means I’m moving. If I have to move then that’s what I should work on. So just moving laterally, forward. I’m really working on everything, trying to be the best me I can.”
The anticipation for learning the new defense and for spring practice continued what has been a pretty special 2018 for Branch.
For the second year in a row, he got unique access into football at the next level, as he once again was on the sidelines for the New England Patriots, as his older brother, Alan, played in Super Bowl LII. While this year’s game – a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles – wasn’t as much fun as last year’s, when New England came out on top, beating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, with Alan recovering Matt Ryan’s third-quarter fumble – a recovery that turned the game around – the trip to Minneapolis was as fun as ever.
“The game was amazing. It was very cold in Minnesota. Very cold. I’m not used to that, being from New Mexico,” he said, with a laugh. “But the experience was great. I got to see my brother out there on the field. Minnesota’s stadium is one of the best stadiums I’ve been in. The whole experience was really nice. Minnesota was very kind to the players’ families and I got to see my brother a lot.”
He’d like to have a similar kind of positive feeling from Georgia Tech’s final game of 2018 – even if it means going to a cold-weather venue – and plans to aggressively lead the charge.
Lead is the operative word. He’s serious about his status as a role model.
“It’s bringing consistency every day,” he said. “If someone needs help, I can lend an ear and try to help them out in any way possible. Just really consistency and trying to adapt to the system as fast as possible so I can help whoever hasn’t adapted as fast, help them get acclimated to the system better. Hopefully we can hit the ground running.”