A hostile, rowdy crowd will pack Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday for the homecoming game between No. 16 Texas Tech and West Virginia.
The visit to Morgantown, W.Va. will mark a homecoming of a different sort for Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle who will be playing in front of his family and friends for the first time since he graduated from McKeesport High School in 2011.
"This is nothing but a hop, skip and a drive down the road," Jackson said.
Jackson, (6 feet 4, 240pounds) has 16 tackles and two sacks as a first-year starter, helping to power the Red Raiders (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) to a perfect start in Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury's first season.
Jackson's family, unable to make the 1,000-mile plus trek to Lubbock to see him play, gathers every Saturday for a Texas Tech watch party, each week at a different home.
"It's kind of like the Super Bowl every time he comes on," said his mother, Tonya Boma.
For the past year, Jackson has had his eye on this homecoming, swapping his own unused tickets with teammates in return for yet another ticket to the West Virginia game.
And the grand ticket total?
"At least 50," Boma said with a smile.
This time, for the first time, they will all watch live as Jackson trots onto the field in scarlet and black.
"I'll probably cry when he first comes out," Boma said. "I know I will, actually, because we haven't seen him play. It's hard. I had never missed a game since he was in fifth grade -- never missed a game, never missed a practice, never missed a thing."
Jackson isn't exactly expecting a warm reception from the West Virginia crowd.
"The fans are going to be loud; they're going to be rude; they're going to be crazy," Jackson said. "That atmosphere is something else. We'll walk out on that field to the boos, going to get things thrown at us. It's going to be all fun."
Jackson, a former West Virginia fan and recruiting target, admitted his surprise that the Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2) have slipped this fall. But as Texas Tech's only player from a West Virginia border state, he has been giving his teammates some advice about the trip.
"I told them they're going to smell beer from the time we get off the plane to the time we hit the stadium," Jackson said, grinning. "I think our student section gets pretty loud and they're always into the game. But West Virginia's student section is ridiculous. It's like having an extra player on their offense with them right there behind you. They'll do their research. They'll know our dog's name, our best friend's name and what gets under our skin."
That best friend's name isn't so hard to remember. Local football devotees will recall that when Jackson left McKeesport for Lubbock three years ago, so did fellow defensive tackle Delvon Simmons. After former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati, Simmons chose to transfer to Southern California, where he is currently sitting out the season per transfer rules.
These former roommates still talk every day.
"Going to school with Delvon was great -- probably the biggest blessing I've had since leaving home," Jackson said. "That was my comfort. He was my backbone. I always had someone to help me, someone who knows me in and out. I've played with him since we were playing Little Tigers, so it was great having him here as long as I did."
Jackson credited former coach Jim Ward and the McKeesport staff for preparing both players for the college game.
"They instilled in us a blue-collar mentality from Day 1," Jackson said. "We're hard working and never get anything handed to us. They're my roots. They taught me a lot of things growing up."
He knows where he can find them, too, when he runs onto the field Saturday -- in the overflowing visitors' section, the one raining tears and cheers instead of jeers.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM