All business for Simmons

Several familiar faces will return to Death Valley when the Tigers face off with Middle Tennessee to open their 2009 season.

Rick Stockstill, of course, is the Blue Raiders' head coach and a former long-time Clemson assistant.

Many Clemson fans may not know former Tiger wide receiver Justin Watts now leads Middle Tennessee's wide receivers while also serving as recruiting coordinator as well.

And then there's Willie Simmons.

Simmons, who now coaches the Middle Tennessee's running backs, threw for over 2,500 yards in his Clemson career before transferring his senior year to The Citadel. After capturing first-team All-Southern Conference honors he landed back at Clemson as a graduate assistant before catching on with a full-time position in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

And on Sept. 5, 2009, he'll make his way back to Death Valley for the first time with an opposing team.

"It will be a little different," he admitted to CUTigers in a recent interview. "But we are coming in knowing we have a job to do and that's really all it is. Before the game there will be a lot of hugs and high-fives and it will be great to be back, but once the ball is kicked off, it's all business."

Even though he now coaches running backs for the Blue Raiders, Simmons knows a thing or two about quarterbacks ... especially when it comes to the Tigers.

During his final year at Clemson, he was involved in what was truly the last great quarterback controversy before this season's debate between Willy Korn and Kyle Parker.

Simmons, a native of Quincy, Fla., lettered three years as a quarterback at Clemson from 2000 to 2002 and passed for 2,530 yards and 16 touchdowns in 24 games. As a freshman, he came off the bench for a hurt Woodrow Dantzler and threw for 228 yards and a record-tying four touchdowns in Clemson's 38-24 win at North Carolina to earn ACC Rookie of the Week honors.
After waiting two years behind Woody Dantzler to get the starting nod, it was all taken away from him after Clemson got off to a disappointing 4-4 start.

He was eventually benched for freshman Charlie Whitehurst.

"Obviously it's a different situation at Clemson now compared to back then," Simmons said. "It was a learning experience for me for sure but with Willy Korn it sounds like he's going to play some this year so we'll see what happens.

"I ended up transferring and it worked out well but I hold no grudges towards anybody. I talked to Woody just last week and I talked to Charlie about a month ago so we all keep in touch. There were never any bad feelings or I wouldn't have come back to be a GA."

Simmons says he's anxious for the first game of the year, not just because he's coming back to Clemson, but also because of what the Blue Raiders bring to the table. With 10 starters back on offense and new coordinator Tony Franklin running the show, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

"We ran a version of the spread last year so it hasn't been that difficult of a transition for us," he said. "Plus we've had a good camp so far and we've been really pleased with the effort our guys are bringing day in and day out."

And given that seemingly half the Middle Tennessee coaching staff has Clemson ties ... well that doesn't hurt either.

"Our guys know what to expect," he said. "They know it's going to be a see of orange and that it's going to be a hostile environment down there in Death Valley.

"We've played in a number of places that have been like that LSU, Louisville, Kentucky just to name few so we know it will be a challenge, but it's one we are all looking forward to."

While the former Clemson signal caller will be focused on his team's game plan come Sept. 5, you have to think it will also be a time for him to reflect on his career in Tigertown.

After all, he's only 28 years old and can still sling it around with the best of them.

"I tell my guys I can throw it with anybody," he said with a chuckle. "I just can't take all those hits. If I could just stand there and throw all day it I could do it, but all that punishment starts to take a toll." Top Stories