Kendall Simmons A True Student-Athlete

Columnist Phillip Marshall covers several topics, including standout offensive lineman Kendall Simmons, who is expected to be a high pick in the NFL draft.

A good guy will have his day Saturday.

Kendall Simmons, the antithesis of the unflattering caricature of college athletes advanced by so many, will be chosen in the NFL draft Saturday. The only real question is whether he will go late in the first round or in the second round.

Simmons spent five hard-working seasons as an offensive lineman at Auburn. He overcame foot problems that threatened to derail his career and became one of the nation's more powerful blockers. He won the Jacobs Award as the top blocker in the Southeastern Conference.

Kendall Simmons has a smile following a Tiger victory.

Simmons is a great football player, a huge and powerful man who can strike fear into a defensive lineman. But that's not what makes Simmons special, at least not to me.

I've talked to generations of football players at Auburn and other places. Simmons stands out among the most memorable.

He's a talented artist who takes as much pleasure in a water color well-done as in a pancake block. He's an outstanding student who had an outstanding senior year while coping with graphics design major that consumed what little free time he had. He graduated shortly before his final game against North Carolina in the Peach Bowl. He's a team leader, ready with a smile and a kind word.

Talk to Simmons' coaches and teammates and you will hear as much about the way he lives his life as about the way he plays his game. Sometime Saturday, he will get the telephone call he's awaited since he was a little boy. Some NFL team will tell him he was their choice.

A couple of years ago, just walking normally was a chore. Simmons had to shut down the 1999 season after three games because his feet just wouldn't let him go on. He had surgery on both feet, dedicated himself to rehabilitation and overcame that problem. He didn't miss a game in his final two seasons, answering the doubts of NFL scouts who wondered if those feet would make him damaged goods.

There is no way to know for sure that any player will make it in the NFL, but I have a feeling Simmons will make it and make it big. But if he doesn't, he'll be prepared to go on with his life and make a good living for himself and his fiance, who he plans to marry this summer.

We read about athletes who don't do it right, who don't take advantage of the education that is offered to them. When they don't make it as professionals - and most don't - they are left with nothing except dreams of what might have been.

Simmons isn't one of those. He came to Auburn and represented himself, his family and his school with class and dignity. He spoke when it was time to speak and he listened when it was time to listen. He worked tirelessly to better himself as an athlete, as a student and as a person.

Saturday, he will reap the rewards.

TALKING BASEBALL

Auburn's baseball team faces what has to be viewed as a crucial series this weekend. As the second half of the SEC season begins, the Tigers are in position to make a run at postseason play. They are also in position to fall out of the running.

The Tigers are 7-8 in SEC play. If they can reverse that and go 8-7 the second half, there's a good chance they'll be in the SEC Tournament with a chance to get to a regional. If they can go 9-6 or 10-5, there'll be no doubt.

If any of that is going to happen, it has to start this weekend against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are 8-6. They're not a particularly imposing team. Auburn must win two of three at Plainsman Park or be looking at a climb that could close to impossible.

With four freshmen in the starting lineup, it's not a surprise that Auburn has struggled at the plate. What is surprising is that its pitching has struggled of late.

Sophomore Eric Brandon, dominant as a closer last season and as a starter early this season, has had trouble getting people out. The bullpen has been suspect. Levale Speigner has been solid, other than a bad outing against LSU. Colby Paxton has been the happiest story on the pitching staff, developing into the outstanding starter had always had the ability to be.

The West Division championship race might be as good as over after this weekend. Ole Miss goes to streaking Alabama. At 12-3, the Tide can run away and hide with a series win over the Rebels this weekend. But in college baseball, much like college basketball, it's not so much about winning the regular-season championship. It's about winning enough to get in a regional. Auburn still has ample opportunity to do that, but it better start this weekend.

BYE, BYE CASINIOUS

Auburn tailback Casinious Moore, as you probably read, has decided to give up football. It's hard to blame him. Moore was considered by many the top prospect in the state going into his senior year at Anniston High School, but he suffered a severe knee injury and never really got his career back on track.

There were times last season when it seemed Moore was on the verge of finally breaking out. He gained 160 rushing yards in Auburn's win over Mississippi State. But by season's end, he was playing sparingly, even after Carnell Williams was injured.

Nagging injuries continued to plague Moore all the way through this spring practice. He told head coach Tommy Tuberville earlier this week that he'd had enough. He's on track to graduate next year.

It just goes to show how fragile things are for athletes, particularly those who subject themselves to football collisions. We'll never know if Moore would have been a great player had he not been injured, but he had all the tools to be a great player.

Much like Kendall Simmons, he prepared himself for the possibility that it might not happen. He'll get his degree and have the tools to have a successful life.


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