Dec. 10, 2010
Simmons Showing Sophomore Versatility
By David Boyce
The numbers suggest sophomore running back Jordan Simmons was one of the most valuable players on the field in Northwest Missouri State's quarterfinal victory over Central Missouri last Saturday.
Simmons rushed 17 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. He caught a team-high nine passes for 59 yards and returned one kickoff for 29 yards.
Math majors can quickly tally those figures and come up with 161 all-purpose yards for Simmons in the Bearcats' 37-20 win against the Mules.
Simmons would like nothing better than to repeat that performance Saturday evening when Northwest, 12-1, plays at Minnesota Duluth, 13-0, in the NCAA Division II semifinals.
The genes inherited from his parents, Floyd and Francine Simmons, play a role in Simmons being blessed with the athletic ability to be a multi-facet back for the Bearcats.
Listening to Simmons talk about his days of playing football at Lee's Summit North, the way he looks up to his older brother, Jeremy, and the opportunity Coach Mel Tjeerdsma gave him, you realize it takes more than physical ability to succeed.
"My brother really got me involved in playing football," Simmons said. "I'm striving to be like him and possibly better than him. I know he watches me. He comes to every game. That support system helps me a lot."
Simmons never played on a high school championship team. It didn't matter. He learned more than Xs and Os from long-time high school coach Harold Wambsgans.
Simmons agreed that Wambsgans is one of the nicest coaches you could ever meet.
"I love coach Wambsgans," he said. "The main thing I learned playing there is I grew as a person. It wasn't just about football with coach Wambsgans; it's about becoming a better person in life and just making people better off the field as well as on the field."
It takes maturity to get through that first season as a redshirt at Northwest. Really, it's a test.
Tjeerdsma and his staff want to see how hard a player will work knowing he is not going to play. The coaches get an understanding of a players' mental toughness.
Simmons had every intention of showing Northwest they didn't make a mistake in giving him a scholarship. It was the only one he was offered.
Simmons made just two visits. The other school that showed interest was Washburn.
"Washburn wanted me to walk-on," Simmons said. "Of course, that was out of the question. I'm glad Coach T gave me the opportunity with a scholarship to play for the Bearcats."
Once he got on the field, Simmons contributed right away for the Bearcats. Last season he was Northwest's Co-MVP for special teams. He led the MIAA in kickoff returns with a 29.6-yard average and ranked third in the conference in punt returns with a 13-yard average.
Simmons also saw action at running back, carrying the ball 47 times for 234 yards and making 27 catches for 332 yards.
In addition, Simmons got to watch LaRon Council, the top running back in the MIAA last season.
"I learned a lot sitting behind LC and watching him doing his thing," Simmons said. "He never forced anything. He let the game come to him. That's what I try to do."
The plan for Simmons this season was to be a back who could line up anywhere. He was going to share tailback duties with sophomore starter Billy Creason and senior Kelvin Austin.
Those plans changed on the first play in the fourth game when Creason suffered a serious leg injury.
Suddenly, it was just Simmons and Austin playing tailback.
"It was real tough losing Billy, but it has brought the relationship between Kelvin and I even closer," Simmons said. "Being the only backs, we really came together and bought into it and tried not to be the weakest group on the squad. I believe we've done a good job of that."
Over the last few weeks, Creason has slowly got into the flow of the offense and is getting some carries. It has allowed Tjeerdsma to use Simmons as originally intended.
"We really wanted to do the things that we are starting to see now where we move him around and put him in a lot of different positions and get different match-ups," Tjeerdsma said.
"When he and Kelvin are the only two running backs, you can't do that. You can't afford to have them both on the field at the same time. You have to rest them a little bit. This has helped us."
Simmons leads the Bearcats in rushing with 700 yards on 137 carries for a 5.1 average and 10 touchdowns. He's caught 42 passes for 364 yards and a touchdown. He also has 260 yards on 17 punt returns and 510 yards on 23 kickoff returns.
"He is very athletic," Tjeerdsma said. "He has great feet. He probably has better than average speed. He's not real fast, but he's real quick.
"The thing that has really pleased us is how good his hands are. He's an excellent receiver and really catches the ball well. That's been a big factor for us. It allows us to do so many things with him."
In defensive lineman Shayne Shades' eyes, Simmons is fast.
"He's a speedster. That's what I call him," Shade said.
"He's improved a lot from his freshman year to now."
Simmons is ready for the next challenge. Temperatures will probably be in the teens or lower Saturday night in Duluth, Minn.
"Honestly, I'm not a cold-weather guy, but that's the mental side of the game," he said.
Plus, Simmons knows there will be plenty of people pulling for him and the rest of his teammates to do well.
"The things I like best about playing at Northwest are the tradition and the history," he said. "We had a speaker come in a couple of weeks ago to talk about the Bearcat paw and what it means to so many people. It's an unbelievable feeling."
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