It’s been a while since we’ve last had an entry in The Only Colors’ Commitment Spotlight Series, but I had an opportunity to speak to Michigan State’s most recent signee, Jordon Simmons. Here is his story.
Simmons, a three-star running back out of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia originally gave his verbal commitment to the Michigan State Spartans last October.
So, why does a highly-coveted recruit from down south want to come to Michigan State in the first place?
“It was just the atmosphere,” Simmons told me over the phone. “I had built great relationships with the coaches, and it was one of the best atmospheres I had ever been around. When I went up to MSU, just being around the coaches, the players, the fans, everything, I just felt real comfortable. It was a home atmosphere. Overall, it felt like the right fit for me to go to school, and also offense-wise (on the field).”
The tweet — a pretty standard and simple way to announce such a big decision in the age of social media. But something happened that was anything but simple. In fact, it was painfully complicated.
When you’re a high school senior, and star athlete, and you’ve signed with your Division I school of choice on a full scholarship, life seems pretty good. But when a big reason you’ve signed with that school — the head coach — just up and retires without warning, how are you supposed to feel? One day before National Signing Day, no less. This was the reality Simmons (and all of the other players in MSU’s 2020 class) were faced with.
But for all of the other recruits, they were locked into the program, having already signed their national letters of intent during the early signing period, like it or not. For Simmons, he had an out. He chose not to sign in December with the majority of the class.
“I wanted to get my whole family up there to show them the school and meet the coaches,” Simmons said, when asked why he decided not to sign on Early Signing Day.
When Mark Dantonio suddenly announced his retirement, it shook Simmons’ world, along with his family’s, whom he is extremely close with. So what went through Simmons’ head when he found out the news?
“Overall, for me and my family, we just talked about it as it happened,” he said. “In that timeframe, the day before National Signing Day, I was all ready to sign with MSU. (My family and I) were all bought into the program and everything. So it just came as a big shock for us.”
Dantonio spoke to Simmons’ parents to tell them the decision to retire, but wasn’t able to reach Simmons himself, as he was in school at time of the phone call. A couple of reporters let him know throughout the school day what happened. Simmons says he hasn’t spoken to Dantonio much since he retired, but that he still has a great relationship with him and it’s the kind of thing where the two can pick a conversation back up at any time. He has no ill will toward Dantonio and understands the decision.
So Simmons made the mature call of delaying his signing until he found out who the next Michigan State head football coach would be. He announced the news on Twitter, which was met with a lot of support and praise from MSU fans.
But even though he had the opportunity to find a different school and a new coach, Simmons stayed true to MSU. He’s a Spartan. He made that decision official in mid-February, shortly after Michigan State hired Mel Tucker to lead the program.
When Simmons heard that the job was Tucker’s, he was excited. Simmons thought he was the right man for the job. In fact, he didn’t even speak to Tucker before signing his national letter of intent, and he actually sent in the paperwork a few days prior to announcing it publicly.
“Once I found out it was (Tucker), I felt like it was a good hire for the school and the football program. Also, my family felt like he was a good hire because he brings a lot to the table and he’ll be able to turn the program around and lead it into the right direction. My brother played at Georgia while he was there, and my parents have a good relationship with him. They felt like I was going to be in good hands with Coach Tucker, so that made us all feel more comfortable about it.”
Tucker actually recruited Simmons while at Colorado. Simmons was offered a scholarship from the Buffaloes, and he visited the Boulder campus once. When he narrowed down his list to 10 schools, Colorado made the cut. As Simmons mentioned, his brother, Tyler, played at Georgia as a wide receiver during the same time Tucker was on staff for the Bulldogs.
Simmons hasn’t had much contact with Tucker, as the head coach gets acclimated to his new surroundings, but his father spoke with Tucker and Simmons is hoping to have more conversations in the near future. Simmons has spoken with new running backs coach William Peagler, and said he remained in contact with Mike Tressel — who was previously the team’s defensive coordinator under Dantonio and will now coach safeties — throughout the whole process.
Outside of the late drama that transpired with the Dantonio news, the recruiting process itself was an enjoyable one for Simmons. He had an impressive offers list that included LSU, Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Oregon and several other top tier programs.
“The recruiting process, overall, is fun,” Simmons said. (My advice to future recruits is) enjoy it while lasts and take advantage of your opportunities. Build good relationships with these coaches. My brother went through it (before me), so when it was my turn I kind of knew what to do and what not to do, so it was easier for me. But it was fun that I got to experience meeting these coaches. But toward my senior season, I wanted to get it over with, so once I committed, I just stayed committed (to Michigan State) and just focused on my senior year. I didn’t have to stress about it when it came toward signing day.”
Simmons had a terrific season, indeed. According to MaxPreps, he amassed 1,093 rushing yards on 154 carries (7.1 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns. He added 259 yards and an additional touchdown in the passing game. Simmons also competes on the track and field team.
So what kind of player are Tucker and Peagler getting in the 5-foot-11, 186-pound tailback?
“I wouldn’t say I’m completely built on speed, but that’s one of my main (assets),” Simmons said. “I’m fairly balanced, but lean toward being a speed back. I can also break tackles, make a man miss (in the open field) or take it 100 yards to the house when I need to. So, overall, I’m balanced in every area.”
As Simmons mentions, a lot of his game is built on his speed and ability to make defenders miss tackles. He doubled down on that when asked about his strengths, but when asked what he needs to work on, his answer was a pleasant surprise that many ballcarriers often don’t even bring up.
“What I need to work on, coming from high school and transitioning to college, is blocking better, Simmons said. “That’s a big component to getting onto the field early. You know, being able to pick up linebackers at 225 (pounds) or 250 (pounds) who are running at you. So, pass blocking is going to be key for me to get playing time. I’m not bad at it, but I think I can do better at it when I get to the next level. You can’t touch the ball unless you know how to pass block.”
Speaking of early playing time, Simmons knows he has an uphill battle with three sophomore running backs who saw the field last season all coming back in Elijah Collins, Anthony Williams, Jr. and Brandon Wright. Additionally, fellow freshman Donovan Eaglin is also coming in with the 2020 class.
For Simmons, he welcomes the competition and plans to work hard to earn his spot. Maybe that’s at halfback, or slot receiver, or special teams, or maybe he even ends up redshirting (which he doesn’t plan to do), but regardless, he is going to give it his all.
“I’m going to come in and do my best to compete and get onto the field,” Simmons said. “When I talked to Coach Peagler, he said he’s not promising me playing time, but he said If I come in and do what I have to do, he can get me some. But I also have to earn it. If I know what I’m doing and am on top of everything, I may be able to see the field. I’m going to come in and compete and work my butt off to get that chance.”
The biggest thing Simmons kept emphasizing is nothing is going to be handed to him. He’s ready and willing to earn everything on the field. But, the most impressive thing Simmons said to me doesn’t even have to do with what happens on the gridiron.
Simmons has goals for his time at MSU, of course. But I was taken aback and elated by his answer, when I asked him what the biggest goal he wants to accomplish is. This response shows exactly what kind of character and maturity he has:
“Coming in as a freshman, my first goal is to make good grades, start off right in the classroom and do the best I can there,” Simmons said. “On the field, I want to try to get playing time early to show people what I’m able to do. Overall for my career, I want to leave a name for myself by the time I graduate. You know, have a big impact on the school.”
I’ve talked to a lot of incoming Spartan players, and very few of them, if any, mentioned academics as their No. 1 goal. This was great to hear.
Simmons says the 2020 class is a pretty tight-knit group who constantly communicates via text messages in a group chat. He is also excited to start building relationships with the current Spartans players.
Obviously, Michigan State football has been on a bit of a downswing over the past two seasons, but Simmons expects that to come to an end, especially with this promising new coaching staff in East Lansing.
“I think we’ll start improving year by year, especially with Coach Tucker bringing in a new plan and philosophy for the whole team. He’s bringing in a new offensive coaching staff and new defensive coaching staff, so we’ll start off fresh this year and bring back up the success Michigan State has had (in the past). I think over time it will be back to what it used to be.”
The Spartans are getting a great athlete, and a high-character person in Simmons. Look for him to start making his mark in the near future.