Simone Looking to Seize Opportunity

Spring is a critical period for a football team for a variety of reasons. For coaches, it's a time to evaluate returning, and for most players, it's a chance to fine-tune their mechanics and gain valuable reps. For others though, like walk-on safety Jordan Simone, it's an opportunity to make his claim for playing time, and if the first week of spring was any indication, he's off to a good start.

Despite how it may seem at times, not all high school football players are three, four, or five star standouts with scholarship offers from the who's who of the college football world. Some, despite their talent, often go overlooked or are told they don't have what it takes to play at the college level.

This, more or less, is where Jordan Simone was three years ago.

Simone was a defensive star at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Washington where he helped lead the Spartans to consecutive state championships in 2009 and 2010 and another state finals appearance in 2011.

While his playmaking ability piqued the interest of a number of schools, it ultimately did not yield a scholarship offer, forcing Simone to walk-on at Washington State where he was recruited by none other than current Arizona State Safeties Coach Chris Ball.

As a true freshman walk-on, Simone starred on special teams for the Cougars, cementing his belief that he could, despite what other teams once thought, play at the D-I level and potentially earn a scholarship.

"When I came in, I looked at special teams as a way to get on the field," said Simone recently after practice. "Like Coach Ball always says, 'You want to get on the bus? You want to play? Special teams is the way.' I never played special teams in high school, but I went out there in all the drills and just gave it my all and they were like, 'You know, you can play special teams,' and I was like, 'Yeah!'

"So throughout that year, I took so much pride in special teams, you know, being a true freshman walk-on just trying to make plays. That's one thing I'm really going to bring to this team is that tenacity on special teams."

But after a disappointing 4-8 season, Washington State fired Head Coach Paul Wulff and his staff. While most Cougar fans celebrated the hiring of Mike Leach shortly thereafter, Simone began to re-consider his options, ultimately deciding to transfer away from the Pacific Northwest to start fresh at Arizona State, where his father, Ronnie, once also walked-on.

"It was an accumulation of things," he said. "The coaching change was one thing and then Coach Ball, him leaving too. He's like a second father to me, so it was pretty easy to make the transition to come down here and be with him because he was the one who recruited me.

"One of the only division one schools to recruit me was Washington State and while I didn't get a scholarship, I trusted Coach Ball that he had my best interest, so I followed him down here."

Typically, walk-ons are not required to sit out a full year upon transferring schools, but since Simone transferred within the Pac-12, he was forced to sit in 2013.

Instead of joining his teammates on the field, he spent last season laying the groundwork for the same type of success he experienced as a freshman at Washington State, by learning the defense, being diligent each day in practice, and putting in the work as a member of the Sun Devil scout team.

"It's tough but everyone is going through the same grind," said Simone of being a walk-on and having to redshirt. "You're paying your own way, so the burden constantly carried on my back is getting a scholarship. Being on the team last year and only being able to practice and not being able to go to games was something that was tough, especially as a walk-on because you're very overlooked.

"It's tough to go scout team the whole year and get no attention. I was just a sponge and tried to learn everything that I could from the coaches and by listening and it's starting to pay off. I've just got to keep working."

Indeed it has started to pay off.

When Arizona State began its spring camp last Tuesday, Simone was a back up at bandit (boundary) safety. However, he made enough of an impression - which included a leaping interception - to join the first team defense by day two, and hasn't looked back since.

"He's a walk-on but he's running with the ones right now," said quarterback Taylor Kelly. "He's a guy that does a great job disguising his defense. He tries to mix things up for me and he's a playmaker, so he's been doing a great job out there. He's a big hitter too."

Simone credits a lot of his development from being just a special teams' contributor to becoming a legitimate college safety to the man he's currently trying to replace, Alden Darby.

"Having Alden Darby to learn from last year was a huge help," he said. "Despite me not playing, any question I had, he would always tell me what I needed to know. Even when he was training after the season and he came down here for a couple days, we worked on some stuff.

"But I've picked up the defense really well. Quicker than I anticipated. Just a lot of hours in the film room, writing everything down, and just being fluent with it."

Off the field, Simone has benefitted as well, developing a close bond with his two roommates, quarterback Mike Bercovici and running back D.J. Foster, both of whom he says have helped him adjust since his transfer and have prepared him for the upcoming year.

"I owe those guys a lot because having two stud players that I became really good friends with really helped put me on the map and in front of the coaches," he said. "You are who you hang out with and if I'm hanging out with those guys, it's good company. I love those guys."

With nine starting positions to fill on defense, including one at safety, the importance of a strong spring effort cannot be understated for Simone and the rest of his Sun Devil teammates competing for playing time in 2014. An impressive showing in the spring can set the tone for what many expect to be a contentious fall camp for the Sun Devil defense.

"This is definitely a huge benefit for all the guys that are looking to play this year," he added. "This is a stepping stone for fall camp and where the coaches are going to be looking at you, so this is going to be huge. I love spring football. Just being able to play against your friends all day, it's fun. There's nowhere I'd rather be than out on the field with these guys."

The competition for a starting safety spot figures to be stiff this fall, especially once redshirt freshman Marcus Ball returns to full action for the Sun Devils. Whether Simone can hang onto to his current position remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure - he isn't shying away from the moment.

"I want to finish real strong," he said. "Obviously I want to finish where I am but I also want to be one of the leaders on the defense. I want people to look to me in a time of need. If a play doesn't get in, I want guys to look at me and be like, 'Simone, what's the play' and I'll be able to get it out. I want to know the defense like the back of my hand and be that guy."


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