Note: The following appears in the Charlotte gameday football program.
Junior linebacker Isaiah Simmons has made a name for himself on the gridiron since joining the Tiger defense. However, his path to Tigertown began on a track. Originally from Omaha, Neb., Simmons started his athletic career as solely a track athlete and did not start playing football until moving to Kansas.
“When I moved to Kansas, all of my peers and friends and all of the guys I lived by…they all played football. As a second-grader, my brother and I decided to try it, and ever since then, I have stuck with it.”
That decision to try football has brought the Olathe, Kan. native to Clemson, a long way from home. The decision to travel so far for college and football boiled down to Simmons’ personal goals.
“Clemson was the best fit. It had everything. Of course, it had the football. I like how everyone is a man of God here, as well as the education and graduation level. All of those things, put together, in one place was really big, because it wasn’t really like that anywhere else.”
Another factor that brought Simmons to Clemson was a Kansas connection with Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables, who received Simmons’ game film from an old friend in Kansas. Even with this connection, Simmons is still one of only a handful of players at Clemson from the Midwest. It was a tough transition to make at first, but with more players coming from the Midwest, it has helped Simmons feel more comfortable.
“When I first got here, I was really homesick. In my redshirt year, I went home every chance I could. It was tough, because I’m so used to the help behind me and was out here on my own. When you get here, you don’t really know who to trust, so it was a little tough, but as time went along, everyone opened up their arms to me.
“It was a struggle at first, but as time went along and I started getting serious about what I wanted to do, I understood, and it got a lot easier for me.”
Coming to Clemson from Kansas also brought some culture shocks. Along with food, Simmons cited the Southern lifestyle overall as vastly different from what he is used to back home.
“Where I live, they have sweet tea, but sweet tea is not really a big deal,” laughed #11. “But here, it’s a really big deal. There’s a lot of restaurants here that we don’t have.
“The Southern lifestyle is a lot different than the Midwest, by far. It is really hard to explain, but it is way different in the South than it is in the Midwest.”
Simmons is now known as a defensive stud, but he was a two-way player in high school, accruing first-team all-state honors on both sides of the ball. However, he ultimately decided that he would rather do the hitting than get hit.
“I thought I wanted to play offense in college, but then being a defensive guy and looking at Kam Chancellor and Ray Lewis and how they hit people across the middle, I soon came to a realization that I didn’t want to play offense because I didn’t want to get hit. I like to do the hitting over me getting hit.
“At some places, they wanted me at receiver, and some places were strictly defense like here, so I thought about what would be the best for my future, and defense was the way to go.”
Playing both sides of the ball in high school helped Simmons prepare for college football, giving him insight into the offensive mindset that he has utilized on defense. Another transition that Simmons made was a switch from safety to linebacker, which has been a great decision.
“The position that I play is really special. It’s linebacker, but I get to do everything. I get to blitz, cover in zone and play ‘man.’ It’s more of a hybrid than linebacker, but I believe the best decision that I’ve made in college so far was transitioning into that position because of all of the opportunities that it presents in our defense.”
Simmons made the transition after talking to his roommates about it one day. Given the affirmation that he should, he sought out Venables to discuss the move, and the two happened to cross paths.
“We happened to see each other when I was going to tell him, ‘I think I should switch to this position.’ And he mentioned it before I could get it out, so after that, I believe it’s meant to be.”
Although Simmons has built an exceptional football career, his first love in sports was track. Mainly a long jumper, Simmons excelled as a multi-sport athlete, winning long jump state championships in 2014 and 2015, so football was not always in the forefront of his future aspirations.
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago what I was going to do, I would’ve told you I’d be in the Olympics. I believed I was going to be an Olympic athlete, but as I got bigger and bigger and started getting football scholarships and the way I was growing and putting on mass, you can’t really run track like that. I was mainly a long jumper, but I soon figured out that football was going to be my best path.”
Playing both sports helped Simmons become a better athlete overall, and now that he is solely a football player, he is able to utilize many skills from track to assist his gridiron game.
“It definitely helps with your explosiveness and knowing how to run. A lot of guys don’t know how to run. It helps with my long speed as well as my short speed because of the different events that I did. Growing up, I would definitely recommend that all younger athletes run track, because it really helps a lot in football.”
Off the field, Simmons is a self-described fashion guy. He believes in the “less is more” approach, letting his shoes do the talking while keeping it basic up top. Although Simmons sees some contenders for “best dressed” on the team, when it comes to gamedays, he believes he wears the best attire.
Simmons described his pregame outfit for the 2019 season opener against Georgia Tech as one of his favorites. He wore a black jacket, white shirt and black-knitted tie. His pants were red with black and green plaid, and he topped it off with Gucci sneakers.
Clearly, Simmons embodies the “look good, play good” philosophy. More big things are sure to come from Simmons, both in his outfits and in his play on the football field.