Throughout fall camp, Simmons spent his time competing with fellow senior Dan Knapp for the starting spot at right tackle but at Sunday’s practice session it was announced that Knapp would be starting at left tackle during Thursday’s matchup against UC-Davis.
“I know I have to be ready now,” Simmons pointed out. “When you know you’re not going to start, you don’t know when you’re going to have to step up but now I know I’m going in the first play, all game.”
Although Simmons will be starting at right tackle Thursday, it remains unclear who will become the frontrunner when he and Knapp are again sharing first and second team reps (while Evan Finkenberg returns to his role as starting left tackle) but continually competing with a teammate like Knapp, is something that Simmons finds beneficial.
“He’s a really competitive guy, so it’s good,” Simmons said of his teammate. “He comes at me, throws a lot of jokes and keeps me on my toes and keeps me thinking about getting better.”
Now entering his second year with the maroon and gold, Simmons is going into only his third season playing football. The offensive tackle from New Orleans never played a down in high school before deciding to play junior college ball at Pasadena (Calif.) City College then at El Camino before coming to ASU.
“It was difficult sometimes,” Simmons stated. “James Brooks said I was like a sophomore in high school when it came to playing experience just to get me to step up and start playing in this role and that I have a lot of catching up to do, so I think that helped me out a lot mentally.”
Simmons was forced to forgo most of fall camp in 2010 while he awaited academic clearance but from then on he hit the ground running. The right tackle saw action in nine games last year, including last year’s opener against Portland State.
“I’ve grown a lot here,” Simmons commented. “I’ve gotten a lot of experience going against great guys. James Brooks, Jamaar Jarrett, people like Junior (Onyeali) and Davon Coleman, everybody just steps up to the plate so I have to step up when I see that level of competition.”
After a 6-6 finish last year, the offensive line as a whole suffered quite a bit of criticism at times for their performance but this year is expected to be a different story. With a much older unit, possibly the most experienced in the Pac-12, the maroon and gold offense line is ready to put it to good use in 2011.
“I wouldn’t really have a scale but as a rating I’d say we’re much better than before as far as chemistry,” Simmons said of his unit. “People are learning about their own techniques and we’re just playing together well.”
With expectations high and the progress made throughout spring and fall camp, as the first game approaches, now only two days away, Simmons and the rest of the maroon and gold squad will undoubtedly be using the excitement surrounding the team to bolster their confidence going into Thursday’s matchup.
“I know it does for me,” Simmons admitted. “I hope it does for everybody because it should. You have to believe in something, why not believe in the best.”
Simmons is one of thirty seniors that will take the field at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday to mark the beginning of their final season for the maroon and gold. With his limited on-field experience but unlimited talent, Simmons is hoping for the best in 2011 in hopes of taking his football career to the next level after graduation.
“I think about the NFL all the time” Simmons said of his future plans. “I try to be the best that I can be going into the NFL so that I can have a long career.”
As far as goals are concerned, the redshirt senior has one, “to be the best lineman in the country.”