April 16, 2008

Walk-on Simmons making impression at wideout

One of Arizona State's top newcomers this spring as been walk-on Tony Simmons, a wide receiver who played at the University of San Diego as a freshman before transferring when the school's head coach, Jim Harbaugh, left to take a similar position at Stanford.

Simmons, 6-foot, 185 pounds, had three catches for 41 yards in the team's first scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium. It was an impressive showing for a player who spent his final two years of high school at nearby Chandler.

"It was great. I went to high school out here and didn't get a chance to play in that state championship game so that's kind of like my state championship opportunity," Simmons said. "I was going all out. It felt great to be in the stadium finally. I can't wait to be out there with all the fans."

With nice size and athleticism, Simmons is a receiver who can play either of the team's outside positions, be it split end or flanker.

"I really didn't know much about him until he came up for workouts," said ASU coach Dennis Erickson following a recent practice. "He's a pleasant surprise. He's got some talent. He's got some feet, he's got some pretty good speed. Right now we're just trying to get him to learn the offense and learn the routes so he's not thinking. He's got some physical talent."

According to Simmons, the adjustment to playing Pac-10 level football hasn't been as tough as he anticipated.

"We learned the straight West Coast (offense) at the University of San Diego; we took it straight from the Philadelphia Eagles playbook So as far as volume, our playbook there was a lot larger," Simmons said. "Volume and call-wise, in terms of what we had to learn and remember, that was a lot larger (at USD). This offense is a mix between coach Erickson's offense and the West Coast offense so I'm having a bit easier time picking it up than if I was just straight out of the Spread.

"Probably the biggest surprise for me is just how quickly I adapted to the speed of the game. Coming from the University of San Diego, I thought it would be a big jump but it really wasn't as much as I thought it would be."

Simmons has quickly bonded with the coaches and peers he works with on a daily basis, and he's had a lot of opportunity to make an early impression, with Mike Jones taking the spring off to focus on baseball and Nate Kimbrough missing several weeks due to a strained hamstring.

"It's been awesome," Simmons said. "The biggest thing is just I'm getting a chance to learn from everyone. Nate, Brandon Smith, coach (Eric Yarber0, they're all taking me under their wing, making sure I learn everything. And once I learn everything I think I'll have a real chance to get on the field.

"Coach Yarbs is funny. He keeps everything real quiet and low key. He'll tell you when you're doing good but he'll tell you more when you're doing bad. He keeps me working hard and he keeps making sure I'm working hard and not being complacent."

While the speed of the game and learning the offense may not have been significant challenges for Simmons, he said one aspect of practice has come as a surprise.

"I think the biggest thing is everyone's head is right out here. Everybody is trying to go full out every day, nobody is taking every plays off," he said. "Everybody attacks out there like it's the last day on the field. It's much more competitive out here I think but it's going real good."

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