Simmons Brings Legendary Status to Clemson
Before Willie Simmons took a snap in high school, he was a
legend around Quincy, Fla.
\"I went over and watched him throw and play over at the middle school,\" said Shanks High School head coach Andy Gay, who was the offensive coordinator at the time. \"I knew right then we were going to change our offense to fit him. He was kind of a legend.\"
Gay\'s plans, though, meant nothing to Phyllis Simmons, mother of The Legend.
Around that same time, The Legend brought home a D on a report card. He was lucky to step foot again on a football field.
\"It was the last semester in this class and we didn\'t take it too seriously and every male in the class got a D,\" said Simmons. \"My mom threatened to take me off the football team. That\'s when I realized that she was serious about academics. It taught me a valuable lesson.\"
Simmons will arrive at Clemson in June, in time for the second summer session, still carrying his legendary status and a 3.83 GPA.
\"We said that if we can get him, we\'ll sign a quarterback, but if not, we don\'t care to get one,\" said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. Bowden cared about signing Charlotte\'s C.J. Leak until early January, when he stopped recruiting Leak, considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country. It made Bowden a one-quarterback man, which was something that turned Simmons\' head.
Simmons, according to Bowden, will be given every chance to
win the starting quarterback job in August. \"We\'ll probably look at Willie Simmons early and see how good he is,\" said Bowden. \"You don\'t want to come out of two-a-days with a question mark. You might as well get the question mark answered.\"
Three years ago, Gay changed Shanks\' offense from a
veer-option to a pass-oriented attack to suit Simmons\' skills. This time, the offense already fits Simmons. Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez watched Simmons at the Bowden family\'s quarterback and receiver camp and knew this was the quarterback to run their offense.
\"When they were recruiting me, they said in a lot of systems a freshman can\'t come in and start because there\'s so much responsibility,\" said Simmons. \"He and coach Rodriguez said the way this offense is structured, everything is predetermined by the time you get to the line. Even though it\'s a hurry-up offense all you have
to do is glance at the coach and he can tell you where you\'re going to be throwing the ball. You can just get out there and get the ball to the receiver, basically.\"
Sounds easy. Gay isn\'t convinced, though, that Simmons is
going to arrive at Clemson\'s campus and have everything under control immediately.
\"I can sit there and tell him all day long what an adjustment it\'s going to be from playing high school football to playing college football,\" said Gay. \"The change in the speed is just unbelievable. Those passes he could throw in high school where the guys are wide
open just aren\'t going to happen there on that level. There are going to be just a few windows of opportunity to hit receivers.\"
Gay has sent plenty of players to division 1-A schools (Shanks has sent six to the pros). The list of division 1-A players includes the quarterback Simmons replaced as a sophomore, Adbul Howard, who\'s now a defensive back at Florida State. Simmons\' chances for success are as good as any of the others, according to Gay.
\"We\'ve had other kids that were just athletic kids that we
played at quarterback,\" said Gay. \"Willie\'s the best quarterback we\'ve ever had here as far as being a quarterback. A lot of those guys played quarterback and when they got to college, they moved to another
position, but as far as being a complete quarterback, Willie\'s the best one we\'ve ever had here.
\"As far as picking up the offense, he will probably know the offense as well as those other quarterbacks up there by the time fall practice starts.\"
Credit his mother for that. Simmons is the son of a math
teacher. He lost his father, who was a mechanic, when he was nine. A car fell on his father and crushed him.
\"Willie\'s mom took the initiative and realized she was going to have to be two parents,\" said Gay. \"She just did an excellent job.\"
Academics always came before football, even as Simmons
excelled at football enough to attract the attention of Gay as a middle-schooler.
\"My mother, she always reiterated how important academics
were,\" said Simmons. \"Everyday she emphasized how important academics are.\"
After Simmons survived his brush with academic trouble, he
went on to lead Shanks as a sophomore quarterback.
\"Abdul was our senior quarterback, but by the third game he
was struggling a little bit,\" said Gay. \"We brought Willie in and started him as a sophomore and took Howard and moved him to wideout and ended up wining six of our last seven ball games.\"
Simmons threw for nearly 1800 yards in those seven games. He finished with 6,097 yards and 96 touchdowns at Shanks.
Simmons\' senior year ended with a 24-21 loss in the state
semi-finals against Jacksonville\'s Raines High School. He didn\'t go away easily. Simmons led the team nearly 70 yards with less than a minute left in the game and nearly pulled out the game.
\"Willie brought us back down the field in under a minute and we had an opportunity with one second left on the 15 yard line to win the game,\" said Gay. \"He did it himself. We went no huddle. He organized it. I mean he hit guys against one of the best high school defenses around.\"
Two months later, he turned down Florida State, Georgia Tech and Auburn to sign with Clemson.
\"During the recruiting process coach Bowden and the other
coaches kept telling me that the current quarterback situation that they had with the new offense they were going to need somebody that resembled Shaun King,\" said Simmons. \"They didn\'t know if they had a guy like that on campus.\"
Simmons is playing it he outfield for Shanks\' baseball team
this spring, but he\'s got part of the Clemson playbook in hand.
\"I have the hand signals and I have tapes from last year,\"
said Simmons. \"Coach Rod was working on a playbook to send me, he just hasn\'t sent it to me yet.\"
Whether or not Simmons gets the entire playbook before he
graduates from high school doesn\'t concern Bowden.
\"You know, the quarterback at any place has a lot on their
shoulders, but there\'s a misconception with this offense that there\'s a lot for the quarterback to do,\" Bowden said. \"All of the play calling will come from the sideline. All they have to do is look over to us and we\'ll tell them what to do. I like my wife and kids too much to let a 21-year-old decide what plays we\'re going to run.\"
Gay\'s only concern is whether Bowden or Rodriguez rush Simmons onto the field. \"I just hope Clemson doesn\'t put him in a position, you know, throwing him to the wolves,\" said Gay. \"Because I know those Clemson fans are pretty tough. I\'d hate for him to get booed as a freshman.\"
Even worse, he\'d hate for The Legend to come home with another D.
Tommy Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org