Antjuan Simmons has made quite the impact on the football field. But the eyes he opened widest and hearts he touched the most happened in the classrooms of Pioneer High School.
Simmons was part of the Peer Connections Program for two years at Pioneer where general-education students work with students with disabilities. The experience was bigger than any sack he made or touchdown he ran for during his amazing high school football career. It was simply “life changing.”
“I got more from them than they got from me,” said Simmons, now playing football at Michigan State University. “The program is created for us to help them and help stabilize their life. But it worked both ways because they were so amazing to be around.
“I still talk to three of the kids I met through that program. We text and talk all the time. They mean so much to me. Being with those kids two to three hours a day was amazing. You really can’t explain it.”
It was that “connection” that got Antjuan interested in pursuing special education in college. Whatever path he chooses after football, it will be driven by the desire to help and be a positive influence on people.
Bill Bellers, the football coach at Pioneer, knows full well what Simmons can do on a football field. He says Antjuan plays “football with a passion and vision” unlike anyone he has ever seen.
But it’s what he saw in the classroom that really was special.
“Antjuan is a very special football player, and an even more special person,” Bellers said. “He also has a heart and passion for others that is even greater. Antjuan is a special young man who is still very humble and wants to help others. He has a very special knack for working with the other students.”
Simmons, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker, received 42 scholarship offers. After initially committing to Ohio State, he changed gears and decided to become a Spartan.
“Making a positive impact on the team is my only goal this year,” said Simmons, taking a break after a morning practice in East Lansing. “I will do whatever they want me to do. I want to do well on the field, in the classroom and make a positive impact on my teammates and listen and learn. We are all in this together.”
He knows what it means to be “all in this together.”
When Antjuan was in seventh grade, his father, Antonio Simmons, was arrested and later convicted on drug distribution charges. Antjuan had to grow up in a hurry with no father in the house and his mother, Tawan Simmons, raised him and younger brother, Dennis Simmons, by herself. They were “all in this together.”
“I talk to my mom every night, she means everything to me,” says Antjuan. “I was half asleep yesterday when she called and she understood how tired I was. But I sent her a text apologizing for being so out of it. She is concerned about me and making sure I’m doing well and it’s always great talking with her.”
Even though he’s been living life behind bars, Antonio remains part of his son’s life. And his son wouldn’t have it any other way. There is no sadness or disappointment in Antjuan’s voice when he talks about his dad.
“I just spoke to my dad a few nights ago,” he said. “I’m so busy right now that it’s tough to find the right time where we can talk. It’s the first time I’ve talked to him since we started camp. I talk to him as much as I can.
“We spoke for about 15 minutes and it was awesome. It’s always good to hear his voice and know that he’s alright.”