Simmons Shows He Belongs On the Football Field, Too

Donald Huff
Date Published: 
Washington Post

Pack up the tape of yesterday's fourth annual Freedom Bowl All-Star Classic and send it to Trinidad. Maybe it will convince Ronald Simmons' mother that her son belongs on a football field.

Simmons yesterday kicked field goals of 35 and 29 yards in the fourth quarter to rally the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to a 12-7 victory over the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

"I couldn't make any field goals when I tried in practice," said Simmons, a 6-foot, 170-pounder who played four years for the Howard soccer team. "I'm a soccer player, and I just started playing football in October. I had never kicked before. My friends laughed at me and thought it was a joke, me being out there."

Simmons mother didn't laugh when she saw her first tape of a football game.

"My mother had a fit," Simmons said. "Even after I told her all I did was kick, let's say she was concerned. But I thought it was an honor and privilege for a foreigner to play. After my friends laughed, I felt I had something to prove."

He did all the proving necessary yesterday, when his kicking won him honors as outstanding player of the game.

"I had missed two [from 32 and 46 yards out], and I wanted a chance to redeem myself," said Simmons, who tried out for the Howard team at the suggestion of Coach Willie Jeffries' wife. "My teammates never gave up on me."

Jeffries, the MEAC coach, almost did. His team trailed, 7-6, and had fourth and 5 from the SWAC 18.

"I was going on history," Jeffries said. "I started to go for it [first down] but changed my mind. [Howard assistant] coach [Alonzo] Lee kept yelling, 'He'll make it, he'll make it.' "

South Carolina State's Roscoe Darnell, the holder on Simmons' field goal tries, said the timing was off on the first two misses. But Jeffries switched snappers, substituting Gary Bridges for Chris Jones.

"I marked off the distance for him [Simmons] because he didn't know exactly how many steps he should take," Darnell said. "But I could see he had plenty of leg strength. I knew if he got another chance, he would win the game for us."

Simmons' two field goals came after turnovers by SWAC quarterbacks Vince Leavell of Central State and Raymond Agee of Grambling.

Like Simmons, Agee has played little during the season, but yesterday he completed 15 of 30 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

"I could have done a lot better, but the execution was poor," he said. "I had a problem handling the snaps [he fumbled three], but it was good competition."

Other local players who had good games included Howard defensive back Doug Dickerson, who blocked a punt, and University of the District of Columbia lineman Harris Sermon, who recovered two fumbles.

The game was bogged down by 12 turnovers and very little offense, but that didn't bother the pro scouts in attendance.

"You look to see if a receiver can take a hit and bounces back or if a tight end blocks," said Otis Taylor, a Kansas City Chiefs assistant. "There's always something you can tell about a player. There are some players in this game who deserve and will get a pro shot."

Even Simmons hoped he caught some scout's eye. "My true love is still soccer, and I may play pro in Spain," he said. "But this is fun, and I might like to try football."