Pioneer’s Simmons adjusting to life, football in East Lansing

Antjuan Simmons jumped out of the cold tub and onto the phone for a few minutes before lunch on Monday to talk football, Michigan State and what it takes to compete at the next level.

A member of USA TODAY’s All-USA Michigan First Team and the No. 1 outside linebacker in Michigan and No. 2 in the Midwest by Scout.com, Simmons sounded “happy tired” after the morning workout in East Lansing. His voice was a perfect harmony of exhaustion and excitement.

“Everything is going real good right now, I’m just taking everything one day at a time,” said Simmons, the heavily recruited linebacker out of Pioneer High School who should see plenty of playing time as a freshman this season for the Spartans. “We have a few days left of summer camp and then we are looking at the start of the season. But everything is going great right now.”

Michigan State went a difficult 3-9 last year. But Simmons can relate. The Pioneers finished just 3-6 during his senior year in Ann Arbor.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Simmons was a two-way threat in purple last year at Pioneer. He was First Team All-State after collecting 73 tackles, two interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and two blocked field goals. On the other side of the ball, he ran for 433 yards and three TDs and also had 10 catches for 155 yards and one TD for the Pioneers.

Simmons says adjusting the college game has been challenging but one he’s getting used to more and more every time he steps on the field.

“Everything is way more intense,” he said, comparing college to high school. “It’s faster and much more technical. Everything is more detail-orientated. It can be chaotic. But the guys who really do a good job are the guys who are able to relax, calm down and put pressure aside and focus on what they need to do.”

And don’t think for one minute that the day comes to an end when the cleats come off. Not at this level. Not at this program. And not with this type of dedicated player.

“You are in the film room and studying your playbook constantly,” he said. “When it picks up like when the offense goes no huddle and you get caught not picking up on a signal or missing a specific call you are going to get exposed. You have to take care of what you need to do off the field.”

The outside linebacker positions for MSU will most likely be filled with returning starters from last season. Senior Chris Frey led the Spartans with 96 tackles last season and his leadership will be counted on with such a young team. Andrew Dowell, a junior, also brings speed, power and experience to the group.

Simmons will most likely be one of the first backup players and even see time on special teams at least to start. But he’s not really concerned at this point where he sits on the depth chart.

“I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “Like I said, for me it’s just one day at a time.”

Simmons road to East Lansing passed through Columbus and not Ann Arbor. Playing and growing up the shadows of the Big House didn’t necessarily mean he was going to stay in the neighborhood. After receiving more than 40 scholarship offers, Simmons first committed to Ohio State.

Then, he changed his mind. Much to the pleasure of fans in Ann Arbor. Only to then select Michigan State. Not to the pleasure of fans in Ann Arbor.

“Michigan State has the top of the line programs in the areas I want to study (special education, kinesiology, exercise science program),” he said. “And you just aren’t going to find better people than the ones I’ve met here.”

And, football aside, Simmons fits into that category as well. Great football player. Better person.

 

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