Will Simmons Feature: A Pirates Life For Me
Sept. 17, 2013
Originally printed Sept. 15, 2013 in the First and Goal football game program
By Lindy Zamora,
When senior offensive lineman Will Simmons looks back at his college football career, he isn't going to remember the number of wins, the Pirates' astounding Conference USA record, or playing in bowl games; he's going to remember the camaraderie of the East Carolina offensive line and the friendships he built while wearing Purple and Gold.
"My favorite thing about being on the offensive line is the brotherhood," Simmons said. "Being on the offensive line is like being on a mini team inside the team. It's a lot of brothers on the line."
Simmons has been playing football since he was a 12 year-old seventh grader who was recruited into playing by some of the coaches who admired his size. He quickly came to love the game his mother, Lorrie, was leery of him playing due to the fact she thought he'd get hurt.
"I love to be aggressive on the field," Simmons exclaimed. "I put my emotions into the game and I love that."
Despite his aggressive nature on the gridiron, Simmons is not an aggressive person off the field. He is the proud pet owner to an English Bulldog named Sacarra who he calls his "baby." The two-year old puppy stays with him in Greenville and his mom comes into town from Ahoskie, N.C., to take care of her while Simmons is on the road with the Pirate football team.
The relationships in his life are very important to him. The family-oriented Simmons is the baby of a family of four. He is close to his parents, Thomas and Lorrie Simmons, as well as his brother, Thomas, Jr., and his eyes light up when he talks about his eight-year old niece, Kamryn.
On the field, Simmons has built strong relationships with his fellow teammates as well as his coaches, particularly offensive line coach Brandon Jones.
"I've learned a lot from coach Jones," Simmons explained. "He's a great guy. He taught me everything I know about football since I've been here. If I ever need anything, he's always there for me. He taught me more than just the game. He's taught me a lot of life lessons too. If I have any problems, on a personal level, I talk to him. I look him in the eye and he always keeps it real with me. He's the first person I talk to if I ever need anything. He's a like a brother figure to me."
There is no doubt the relationships he has formed over the last four years have helped him become a better football player. After redshirting in 2009, Simmons saw action in four games as a redshirt freshman making his collegiate debut on the offensive line against Memphis. Following the 2010 season, Simmons played in all 12 games as a redshirt sophomore as he established a firm grasp on the Pirates' right guard position. He made his first-career start in the season opener against South Carolina and has not looked back since as he has racked up 27 consecutive starts, the most on the ECU offense.
"I just play with a lot of passion and emotion," Simmons said. "I was never trying to think about myself at all. I'm not a selfish person. When I do something, it's for the team. I don't think of (starting in 27 consecutive games) as a big accomplishment. I just try to push through."
Although Simmons doesn't think it's a big accomplishment, his coaches thought enough of his efforts to give him the team's Offensive Lineman-of-the-Year award after helping the Pirates to a No. 20 national ranking in passing offense (286.1 yards per game) and providing protection for the ECU quarterbacks which allowed them to throw for more than 300 yards in six of the last 10 games of the season.
Simmons followed that performance with a solid season in 2012 as he was named to the All-Conference USA Second Team. For the second consecutive year, he was named ECU's Offensive Lineman of the Year and was also selected as the offensive recipient of the Rock Roggeman Heart of the Pirate Award.
As a redshirt junior, Simmons was a key member of an offensive line that helped produce five 100-yard rushing performances and four 300-yard passing contests. Additionally, he played an essential role for an offensive unit that provided mass protection for quarterback Shane Carden's then-single-game passing record of 439 yards versus Marshall.
Simmons credits what he learned from his teammates as one of the reasons he became a better and stronger member of the offensive line.
"My redshirt year really helped me prepare," Simmons explained. "I was on the scout team and I was going up against Jay Ross, C.J. Wilson, Linval Joseph, Scotty Robinson and Nick Johnson, and all of those guys were really good. Going against all those guys taught me a lot. It taught me to never give up."
The love Simmons has for being part of a team pushes him to look toward the future and the possibility of playing in the NFL someday. The health fitness specialist major calls the opportunity to play at the next level a "dream come true" and is doing all he can to make that dream become a reality.
However, before he can make that dream come true, he must help the ECU football team to excel on the field and play to the best of its ability day in and day out. Simmons and his teammates helped the Pirates to a co-Conference USA East Division title last season and this year, they want the whole thing.
"We've always got a chip on our shoulder," Simmons said. "We've always got a target on our back. We worked so hard for it. We want it bad."
If there is one game in his collegiate career Simmons would want back it would be last season's 40-20 loss at UCF.
"We had a lot riding on that game," Simmons explained. "If we had won that game, we could have been in the conference championship game."
This season, Simmons and his teammates will work even harder to win the Conference USA East Division. With 2013 being ECU's last year in the conference before making the move to the newly created American Athletic Conference, winning the title would be a perfect ending to a great run in Conference USA.
"My goal (for ECU football) is to keep going," Simmons said. "I want to win. I want to win as much as we can."
Simmons hopes to keep his final year playing college football alive. Not only from wanting to win, but from being able to remain part of the Pirate football family as long as possible. Although he knows the relationships he's built at East Carolina will last a lifetime, as will his affiliation with the university, he's not quite ready to close the book on his career.
"Being a Pirate means a lot to me," Simmons said. "This is all I know. `A Pirate's life for me' is what I said when I came in and that's always stuck with me."