W&J Football Feature: DeAndre Simmons
Each step of DeAndre Simmons’ journey from Fort Myers, Florida, to Washington, Pennsylvania, has helped shape the man he has become.
There have been ups and downs, wins and losses and plenty of miles logged. One constant has been his smile and laughter that usually ensues.
“W&J was the only college that made me actually feel comfortable,” said Simmons, who chose W&J over Mount Union, Otterbein and Hobart among others. “I felt like I could be myself. I like to act out and be the funny guy. The guys I met (Dreadless Stubbs, Taylor Hockman, Brett Axner) on my visit here, they made this place feel like home immediately.”
When Simmons graduated from Riverdale High School in 2008, attending a prestigious college like W&J didn’t appear to be an option. A year of prep school was necessary to elevate his grades and he decided to attend The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut.
“I needed that extra year and Taft provided me with an opportunity,” noted Simmons, who has three sisters and three brothers. “It was an eye-opening experience and because I was one of the older guys on the football team (considered a “PG”, aka post-grad student), I immediately became a leader.”
The Taft School was not a football powerhouse by any stretch. The Rhinos, which had a 22-man roster, won three games in three years and suffered 12 consecutive losses prior to Simmons’ arrival. A new coach, Panos Voulgaris, took over in 2008 and brought a new attitude to the campus.
“Our coach was nuts,” exclaimed Simmons. “I was in the best shape of my life because he made us run. We were on the field constantly and had a lot of young guys.”
The losing streak reached 18 games before Taft took on Loomis Chaffee on the first night of November. Taft had been improving each game; however, the Rhinos just couldn’t break through on the scoreboard.
Simmons had his teammates believing that the streak was going to end soon. He was right. Taft pulled out a 24-21 victory, but the victory was bittersweet for Simmons as he watched from the sidelines. He broke a team rule earlier in the week and was held out of the game.
“It shouldn’t have been a close game, but there was a young guy replacing me on defense and they really used that to their advantage,” recalled Simmons. “I was yelling and screaming on the sidelines. Not being able to play in that game has helped me in the long run. I am more cautious and I look at the consequences of certain situations. Team rules should be followed by everyone, especially those looked upon as leaders.”
During his first three years with the Presidents, Simmons played running back, gained 170 yards and scored two touchdowns, both coming last season in road games versus Juniata and Bethany. However, classmate Tim McNerney was still going to be ahead of him on the running back depth chart. During spring practice, Simmons asked Defensive Coordinator Shawn Rohrer if he could switch to linebacker.
“I wasn’t playing much, but I knew I had something to offer to the team,” said Simmons, whose brother Malik is a freshman cornerback for the North Carolina Tar Heels this fall. “I want to be on the field. I knew there would be a learning curve, but I’ve played there before.”
Simmons’ teammates thought so highly of ability and leadership that he was voted a team captain following the conclusion of spring practice. He reflected back on the season at Taft and vows to learn from that experience.
“I want to motivate my teammates,” he added emphatically. “I didn’t think I’d be in this position of leadership again. I stayed quiet my first three years for the most part, but there’s no point in that anymore. I don’t want to have any regrets. We need to emphasize the little things, like stripping away the football and making that extra block. We’ve been so close the last couple of years. I’d love to be the guy who helped restore the winning tradition here.”
Simmons, who posted five tackles in the season opener at Methodist, practiced for his leadership role this summer as a Saturday Light Brigade intern at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The Saturday Light Brigade, a public radio program featuring acoustic music and family programming, airs Saturday mornings (6:00 am - Noon) on W&J’s student-run station, WNJR, 91.7-FM.
Simmons helped to coordinate an oral history project, helping children living in Pittsburgh’s urban areas to identify role models and leaders in their communities. He also worked for the museum’s Summer Dreamers Academy as a “Radio Camp Counselor”, teaching second graders the basics in radio production.
“I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I did,” said Simmons, who was known as “Mr. Dre” by the young campers. “I learned second graders know a lot more than I thought.”
Simmons has the Presidents’ Oct. 13 game with Westminster circled on his calendar. His parents haven’t seen him play a game since his high school all-star game and he expects them to be in attendance for the Senior Day game versus the Titans.
“I get goose bumps thinking about them possibly being there on the field with me,” concluded Simmons. “That fuels me even more to have a great season. I want to play hard for my teammates. A championship season would be a dream come true.”