Oct 31, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) celebrates with offensive lineman Darrell Simmons Jr. (55) after scoring during the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Darrell Simmons always knew he was a good football player.
Trouble is, nobody else seemed to notice.
Nobody, that is, besides Iowa State’s coaches — who scouted the strong, athletic offensive lineman at a Lindenwood University showcase in the summer of 2018, then invited him to the Cyclones’ “Big Man” camp in early June.
“He pretty much dominated everybody at that camp,” Iowa State offensive line coach Jeff Myers said. “We offered him on the spot.”
Three weeks later, the 6-3, 315-pounder committed to Matt Campbell’s program. Simmons has been turning heads — and popping pads —ever since.
“I was really like a late bloomer,” Simmons said.
No one can miss his blossoming displays now, though.
Simmons stepped in to start week two of last season. Star guard Trevor Downing had suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener. Simmons slid in at right guard, hunkered down, and eventually turned himself into a second-team Freshman All-American, according to The Athletic.
“The intangibles that you saw in camp in his performance are the things that have allowed him to accelerate relatively quickly,” Myers said. “Now, he’ll be the first to tell you he struggled his first semester here. Academics were a lot. The flow of the season and being a full-time student and all of those things — he had to work through. And there were even some times last year (when) he was still learning how to be consistent and how to continue to grow every day, but ever since that guy stepped on the field last year for us against TCU, he never looked back. He’s worked really diligently since the bowl game, since January, and I think is a guy that’s gotten better every day.”
As goes Simmons, so goes the entire O-line room. And/or vice versa.
Campbell told reporters early in fall camp that 11 current Cyclones had proven themselves worthy of starting this season. So the two-deep is stacked — and then some.
“I’m really happy with where they’re at,” Myers said. “Our guys are rolling. We’re playing really physical. We’re doing a great job communicating. We’re getting people moved up off the ball and opening some holes for our running backs. But it’s gonna be a challenging week this week. I’m gonna move some guys around, change some things up, put them in a little bit of adversity and watch them respond. But for where we’re at today? Very pleased.”
Simmons, Myers said, possesses “some of the best feet” he’s ever seen. That’s obviously key for any spot on the line, but especially at guard.
“He’s very quick,” Myers said. “He’s very twitchy and has the ability to play with power. Everyone makes fun of him because he’s a little on the shorter side, but Darrell’s got a 6-8 wing(span). He’s got long arms, he’s got big levers, and I think that’s what allows him to play with almost like a natural leverage. (That’s) what I joke with him about all the time. Yeah, you’re going against (defensive lineman) Enyi (Uwazurike), who’s 6-7, right? You think it’s a disadvantage but your arms are just as long and you’re naturally underneath his helmet. But his quickness, his foot speed and he’s got really powerful hands. You combine those things together, it’s a pretty dynamic setup.”
Simmons just needed a chance. He knew it would come eventually. It just happened to come earlier because of Downing’s injury.
“My mentality was just stay ready at all times because I have faith in my ability,” Simmons said. “I knew that if I got thrown in there I would be at least somewhat ready to play.”
He proved to be much more than that — as did fellow right-sider Jake Remsburg, who started to shine last season at right tackle after Joey Ramos sustained an injury.
Both were part of ISU’s Class of 2019 and have challenged each other to get better each day, week, possession and game.
“Me and him are good buddies,” Remsburg said. “We always find ourselves sitting next to each other in our team meetings for the past (two-plus) years, which is just awesome. We goof around with each other, but it’s been really good. We push each other. Last year we really pushed each other. I kind of feel if one (of us) had a good play, then the other guy would have a great play right after that.”
Good leads to great. Work makes play fun. And the level of good-on-good competition? Yeah, everybody notices that.
“It’s always somebody pushing somebody,” Simmons said.