Nov. 3, 2000
By Eddie Pells Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a game where family ties and happy homecomings are all the talk, Clemson’s Willie Simmons fits right in.
Simmons, the backup quarterback for Clemson, grew up in Quincy, Fla. That’s just down the road from Doak Campbell Stadium, where Tommy Bowden’s No. 10 Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) plays Bobby Bowden’s No. 4 Florida State (8-1, 6-0) Saturday.
With Clemson starter Woody Dantzler ailing with an injured left ankle, there’s a decent chance Simmons will play.
So, while Tommy Bowden talks about what it will be like to go home and coach against his father in Bowden Bowl II, Simmons is simply looking for tickets.
There are lots of people who would love to see the sophomore play, maybe make his first career start, in the biggest game of the year.
“That would be a dream come true to me,” Simmons said. “This is what I waited for when I came to college.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee Simmons will start. Tommy Bowden has been watching Dantzler practice, and wants to wait until game day to decide.
Just as obviously, there’s no guarantee Simmons will succeed. This is Florida State he’s talking about, the defending national champion, a team that has outscored Clemson 156-3 in their last four meetings at Doak.
“I know I’m going to take my hits,” Simmons said. “They’ve got great players over there, NFL prospects all over the field. There might even be a little more interest in burying me because I came from around there.”
Bobby Bowden says the Seminoles will prepare for both quarterbacks, even though Tommy phoned him Thursday night to say Dantzler would start.
“It looks like they’re getting more confident with Simmons and they’re not afraid at all to put him in there,” Bobby Bowden said. “And when he goes in there, it looks like he belongs. We’ll study the styles of both players and try to have a plan for both.”
Indeed, there is a difference. Dantzler is Clemson’s leading rusher this season, with 841 yards. Simmons is a drop-back passer who has thrown for 359 yards and five touchdowns in his relief work the last two weeks.
It’s something of an upset that Simmons landed at Clemson. He was on a Florida State recruiting trip in 1998, and saw the Seminoles’ 48-0 dismantling of the Tigers in Tallahassee.
“I wasn’t looking too high at Clemson after that,” Simmons said. “But when Bowden came to the school, I knew things were going to improve and wanted to be part of the rebuilding.”
The project has progressed better than expected. Last season, Clemson came into this game at 3-3 and nearly upset the Seminoles, taking a 14-3 halftime lead before losing 17-14.
This year, Clemson is four points removed from a perfect season. The Tigers lost 31-28 to Georgia Tech last week, and now enter the game that will provide the ultimate test of far the Tigers have come.
At least one interested observer says Tommy doesn’t need to validate himself against Florida State to prove this rebuilding project is in full swing.
“What he did at Tulane was no fluke obviously,” brother Terry, a former Auburn coach now and college football commentator, said of Tommy’s perfect season there in 1998. “It’s being done again at Clemson. He’s doing it a little bit with mirrors and a little bit with coaching and scheme, but he’s doing it.”
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