Jack Simmons talks Gophers, football and hoops

Gopher recruit 6-6 tight end/linebacker Jack Simmons of Mundelein (IL) Carmel was named all-conference, all-area Coaches Association, All-State and Lake County Pioneer Press Player of the Year after leading the Corsairs to an undefeated 14-0 season, that was capped off by the team's first ever state championship. GoldenSports.net caught up with Simmons earlier tonight.

Jack Simmons became the fourth verbal commitment for the Gopher football team, picking Minnesota over Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan State in August. Simmons was a four-year varsity starter, who was named first-team all-area in 2002. He is an excellent athlete who played four different positions as a junior. His father, Terry, is a former Gopher who played for Minnesota from 1977-79 as a punter and tight end. 


Simmons also considered Big Ten rivals Northwestern, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois before choosing the Gophers.


Simmons is expected to project as a tight end at the collegiate level. He said that the Gopher coaches want him to put on ten to 15 pounds before the start of next season.


"The AAU coach I have is a personal trainer. He works out Elton Brand and Brian Urlacher has used him. We plan to work on my agility and quickness along with some weight training."


"They'd like to split out as a wide receiver and also use me as a blocker. Much like they used Ben Utecht.".


Simmons takes pride in his blocking, as was evident when I caught him along with a record overflow crowd of more than 7,000 fans at the 3,000-seat capacity McCulloch Stadium from watching the Mundelein (IL) Carmel–Joliet (IL) Catholic Academy game in late October. He consistently blocked Joliet's all-state defensive back Bobby Buchanan throughout the game. Buchanan, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcon defensive back Ray Buchanan has committed to Illinois. However, Buchanan was clearly frustrated with the blocking of Simmons, who would routinely hold onto his blocks 20 yards down the field on Carmel runs.


"He's (Buchanan) a great player. The weather changed the game. It was fun to go to one-on-one against a player like that. I might have got the better of him some times, but he got the better of me, too."


Simmons realized that his blocking was crucial to the run-oriented Corsair offense.


"Blocking is a big part of our offense and that work will pay of with the Gophers and their running game."


Simmons is a versatile player, which is one of his strengths, according to his high school coach Andy Bitto.


"Jack catches, blocks, tackles, makes interceptions and blocks punts. He's a difference maker. Simmons is the most unselfish player I've ever had," coach Andy Bitto said. "He's going to be a really good Big Ten player." 


Carmel used the slogan "Unfinished business' this season after going 13-1 last season. Mount Carmel knocked off top-ranked Carmel 28-21 in the state quarterfinals on its way to a fourth state title in five years. Carmel had defeated Mt. Carmel in the regular season 24-21. This year's Carmel squad was considered the best team in school history as they return 14 starters from the Class 6A quarterfinalist.


Simmons said that getting one game farther was a big motivator for the team.


"It was definitely an exciting season. Going 14-0 with all the press following us. It was fun, but tiring. It was a life-changing experience. All the work that went into it. It was the first state championship in school history, which made it even more rewarding."


The Corsairs won the 6A state title with a 54-26 victory over Bloomington (13-1) for the Class 6A state championship at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Simmons caught a 32-yard touchdown pass, recovered a fumble and made a key block on Mike Serio's 91-yard kickoff return (that made the score 32-26. The Corsairs outscored their four playoff foes 233-85 to finish the season 14-0.


The Corsairs finished the season #9 nationally by USA Today. They won the championship game without senior quarterback Mark Venegoni who suffered a broken ankle in their semifinals win.


"It was a great win in the championship game. Our starting quarterback went down and our backup stepped up and we did not miss a beat."


Simmons received several postseason honors, despite being a tight end on a team that was a strong running team with an offensive line dubbed "The Great Wall of Carmel." Their offensive line features great size, with Drew Cairo-Gross (6-3, 293), Dan Osterhout (6-3, 276) and Luke Krombach (6-3, 255). He was the team's only two-way starter as a linebacker and rarely left the field.


However, he was pleasantly surprised to be named Pioneer Press Player of the Year.


"I was shocked that I got it."


Simmons was expected to visit December 19th, but used a week off in this schedule to come up December 5th.


"I met a lot of great guys, especially Johnny Carlson and Lydon Murtha. Johnny is going to graduate early to be ready for spring practice. It was a nice weekend to come up since they had several players who had already committed to Minnesota. It was nice to meet the other players who I'll be spending the next four or five years of my life with."


Simmons has turned in his football cleats from basketball high tops as he is playing basketball again this season. Unfortunately, because of the success of the football team, Simmons and several teammates got a late start on the hardwood.


"Four of the five starters were football players. They gave us a week off and we missed eight games, all losses. "


Despite the slow start, Simmons has high hopes for the season. They finished .400 last season.


"Things are going to pick up. We're not looking at our record. Our season starts after Christmas. We are still looking at going to the regionals."


Carmel is 2-11 and faces Marian Catholic Tuesday night. He is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game."


Simmons was ranked 14th among the Chicago Tribune's preseason Top 100 recruits. He is already a full academic qualifier with a 3.4 GPA and an ACT score of 25.



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