Simmons Still Pursuing the Dream

After not playing football last year for the first time since he was a small boy, Willie Simmons is once again living out his dream. And while playing for the Sioux City Bandits of the United Indoor Football League is not his ultimate goal, it's still better than not playing at all. <br>

"I'm being really optimistic about this thing," the former Clemson quarterback said in a phone interview. "I stayed out of football for a whole year last season and it ate me up inside. So even though this is not big-time, big-money football per say it's football nevertheless. It gives me a chance to get back into football and do what I love doing the most.

"I honestly believe the Lord has a path for me and I hope it involves pro football at a higher level. I just have to stay diligent. If it's not pro football, all I can do is say that I gave it my best shot. This is the first professional league I've been in and it gives me a barometer to kind of see where I am and where I need to be."

Ever since he decided to leave the Tigers prior to his redshirt senior season in 2003, Simmons has faced several life altering decisions of which that was one of them. And regardless of how they've turned out, he's not one to dwell on the choices he's made, including the one where he decided to transfer to The Citadel.

"It was hard to leave Clemson, a place I had been the last four years and where I had pretty much established that as my home, where I made a lot of great friends," Simmons said.

"But to transfer out my last year, that was a tough decision. It was a career move. It was my best opportunity to where I could go somewhere and play football and start. Those guys are football players, too. They're competitors and they want to win. It kind of put the fun back in football. Being at the high level is more like a business and it takes a lot of fun out of the game."

Simmons left Clemson after it was clear that Charlie Whitehurst was going to be the starting quarterback for the Tigers. And while it would be easy and understandable for him to harbor ill feelings toward Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, he doesn't.

"That's life, that's a part of growing up," Simmons said. "My mom did a good job of teaching me that you play with the hand that you're dealt with and that was the hand I was dealt at Clemson. Whether you want to call it a raw deal or not I look at it as a part of life. It was a tough decision, but it was a decision that I prayed about and that I felt like was the best decision for me. I had the support of my family and friends.

"Honestly there was no bitterness because I felt like it was a test of my character and a test of my faith. Everything happens for a reason. That's what happened and I had to take it and live with it and make a decision that would alter the rest of my life."

While his career at Clemson didn't turn out like he had hoped, there were still memorable moments, including the dramatic win on national television at North Carolina, where he came in and rallied the third-ranked Tigers from a major deficit and to keep them undefeated.

"The game that most people remember would definitely be the North Carolina game my freshman year," he said.

"To step in as a redshirt freshman and being down 17-0 and to come in and tie a school record for touchdown passes. If you ask any Clemson fan, they will probably point to that game."

However, oddly enough, that's not the game that he remembers the most.

"For me personally, it would have to be the Florida State game in Tallahassee," he said. "And even though we lost that game, just to play in front of my home crowd and to have 50 or 60 Willie Simmons fans in the stadium cheering me on to play well and to go in and have a pretty good game and do some things against a pretty formidable team. …

"And with my mom going through an illness at the time and couldn't go to many of my games – I think that was the only game she went to in a two-year period – that game is definitely near and dear to my heart. When I go home, people still talk about that game and how I almost beat Florida State."

Now, there's a new group of Simmons fans in Iowa, as he tries to lead the Bandits to a league title.

"It's been going pretty good," he said. "It's been an adjustment going from the outdoor game to the indoor game. Things move a little quicker on a professional level and I'm just trying to get adjusted from a college life to a pro life."

There's little doubt that if Simmons handles this stage of his life like he has with the others, folks in Iowa, Clemson and Florida will have plenty of reason to be proud.

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