FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Deon Simon is motivated by his painful past.
The darkest moments came while he dealt with a severe knee injury and academic issues as a high school senior, leaving his future on and off the field uncertain.
"It was a hard time," the Jets defensive tackle said after a recent practice. "I didn't know exactly what was going to happen at the next step, the next level. It's been tough, but I stuck with it.
"I put it upon myself that I won't be denied."
Today, the 27-year-old Simon is a promising backup on Todd Bowles' defense and a college graduate who has aspirations of becoming a U.S. Marshal when his playing days are over.
"I definitely think about all that," Simon said. "Where I come from, how I stuck it out to get to this point, I think about it all the time."
At 6-foot-4 and 332 pounds, Simon is a physically imposing presence. But his calm, soft-spoken demeanor reveals a humble soul, someone truly thankful to have overcome the obstacles that once threatened his dreams.
"When he walked through my door, I was like, `Holy smokes!'" said Northwestern State coach Jay Thomas, Simon's college coach. "But he's just a gentle giant."
Simon was a star on the defensive line at Glen Oaks High School outside Baton Rouge, La., and caught the attention of several Division I football programs. It took one play early in his senior season — the homecoming game — to change all that.
Simon crumpled to the turf after blowing out a knee, the pain searing through his body as coaches and trainers huddled around him. The damage, it turned out, was devastating.
"I basically had to have everything reattached: my hamstring, my cartilage, ACL, LCL and just different tissues in my knee," Simon recalled.
It all hit him during the rehabilitation process, when the interest from colleges suddenly disappeared. Because of the severity of the injury, it was uncertain whether Simon would ever be able to take the field again.
There were moments of depression, and academic issues soon followed. But Simon refused to give into the negative thoughts.
"Yeah, I had my moments," he said. "But I made a commitment to keep working, get my knee healthy and keep going with it."
Simon headed to Houston to attend Southwest Preparatory in order to get his ACT scores up to qualify for college. He needed to get his mind right while his body healed.
" "I couldn't complain about it," he said. "I just did it."
At Northwestern State, Simon played as a freshman, saw more action as a sophomore and then earned a spot on the All-Southland Conference honorable mention team as a junior. Another less-serious knee injury limited Simon in his final year, but he had established himself as one of the top playmakers in the country at his position.
Mauldin, Forte Hurt
Jets linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin tweaked his back and sat out practice Thursday, leaving him uncertain for the preseason game at Detroit on Saturday night.
Mauldin had been dealing with a back issue earlier during training camp, but returned to the field Wednesday. Coach Todd Bowles said the third-year linebacker was inside receiving treatment during practice Thursday.
Bowles added that he was unsure how long Mauldin would be sidelined, but said that he would likely not play against the Lions.
Running back Matt Forte will also sit out the game as he works his way back from a hamstring injury that has not allowed him to fully practice since July 31.
Fellow running back Bilal Powell returned to practice this week after hurting his neck Aug. 4, and is expected to play.
Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who is out for the season with a bulging disk in his neck, will have surgery next week. Enunwa was injured when he fell during practice at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 5.