NEWS, NOTES &
Friday, October 12, 2007
By Bethany Bradsher
Bucs' new action hero steals
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Travis Simmons was a freshman in high school
with a dream of playing big-time basketball when he went to a family reunion
in Orlando, FL. It was there that he met a second cousin who, even though
only a college freshman himself, was already recognizable to many sports
Cousin Reggie Bush made an impression on Simmons
back then, even though Simmons had never played high school football. Now
that he’s a major college player making a difference for the East Carolina
defense, Simmons feels even more connected to his talented kinsman.
“It’s a great feeling to have a cousin like
Reggie Bush, because he’s doing what I’m trying to do,” said Simmons, who
came to Greenville from Tallahassee, FL. “He’s doing great things.”
Trying to build a family tradition, Simmons is
hoping to do great things for the Pirates on a regular basis, and his first
such feat was the turning point of Saturday’s decisive win over the
University of Central Florida.
In the third quarter, with his team behind 31-24
and the Knights having just blocked an ECU punt, Simmons grabbed an
interception and ran it 80 yards to the 9-yard line, where Rob Kass threw to
Jamar Bryant to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Simmons’s interception changed the tide of the
UCF game, and the victory gave the Pirates ownership of
first place in the East Division. It
was the kind of play his coaches knew he could and would make, and secondary
coach Rick Smith even tweaked Simmons’s assignment in hopes that the right
throw might come his way.
“He’s always had a knack for seeing the
quarterback throw the ball, and he’s got great hands,” Smith said. “We just
changed the coverage a little bit and put him in a position to fool the
quarterback. And he played it really good — they thought he was playing deep
third and he just sank it about 15 yards and settled and when they threw it
into the flat, he just jumped on it and picked it off.”
Part of the coaching staff’s rationale for
giving Simmons the starting nod last week had to do with academic
shortcomings from the more experienced cornerbacks who have received most of
the playing time this year, head coach Skip Holtz said.
For Simmons, it was a classic case of making the
most of a golden opportunity. For Holtz, it was validation that placing
principle ahead of competitive expediency can produce unexpected benefits.
“I had some academic issues that we stood up for
this week,” Holtz said after the UCF game. “I just feel like some people
aren’t making the kind of commitment they need to do to take school
seriously. And so that opened the door for a guy like Travis Simmons to step
up. I thought he stepped up. I thought he went out there and did a great
As Simmons tells it, he ran out of gas near the
end of his interception return, and the fact that he didn’t make it into the
end zone has been a source of ribbing from teammates and coaches this week.
But even without the TD, Simmons gained the kind
of confidence from the play that he hopes to parlay into more success in the
next six games.
“I’ve gotten a lot of text messages, phone
calls, people congratulating me on that play,” he said. “I don’t want to get
bigheaded, I just want to get better, keep trying to improve and help the
team get a win.”
Simmons was recruited by Smith because of the
coach’s longtime friendship with Simmons’ high school coach at Florida A&M
High School. But by the time Smith became aware of Simmons and his talent,
ECU didn’t have any scholarships left for the upcoming fall. So the Pirate
coaches asked Simmons to “gray-shirt,” which happens when players take the
first fall semester off and come in for spring football and conditioning in
That unconventional entry helped to make him
stronger and more prepared for Division I football, Simmons said.
“It kind of helped me out, because I had a
chance to come in early before the freshmen this year, get into the spring
and learn the plays,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to get up here
early and get used to college football life.”
It turns out that in addition to being the
cousin of a Heisman Trophy winner, the 5-foot-10, 179-pound Simmons is also
“They call him Spiderman,” Smith said. “Because
he’s small, but he’s quick like a spider. I’m excited about him. He may
start again this week.”
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10/12/2007 03:42:17 AM