ANN ARBOR, Mich. - All it took was one look for Jari Brown to identify the future star of his program.
Brown took over as the head football coach at Pioneer High School three years ago this coming March. He met Antjuan Simmons – now one of Notre Dame’s top targets in the Class of 2017 and a potential Junior Day visitor next month – not long after at a fundraising event. Brown, a former wide receiver and captain at Eastern Michigan, couldn’t quite put his finger on what brought the freshman to his attention.
“He showed up at our fundraiser dinner and I was like, ‘There’s something about this kid,’” Brown said. “We wanted to make sure he stayed here and came here. His freshman year, he played on the freshman (team) and that didn’t last very long.
“He came up to JV and we looked at it, he was probably the second best player in the program as a freshman.”
Simmons, now a junior, played tailback for the varsity team for most of his freshman season.
Now a couple years on from that breakthrough, he’s a respected leader within the Pioneer program while considering dozens of scholarship offers at multiple positions. Yet none of the attention has seemed to change the way Simmons goes about his business.
This month offered another example: Multiple Big Ten head coaches visited Pioneer to express continued interest. All Simmons did was go straight from class to the weight room for offseason work with teammates.
First in conditioning drills? Simmons. Last out of the facility after talking things over with assistant coaches? Simmons.
Keeping up with that training has turned Simmons into one of the most wanted prospects in Michigan. He has offers from Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgia, Penn State and several others. At one point in September, he added eight offers in a single week and four in one day.
College coaches certainly took note of his junior film.
“They wanted to see more explosion,” Brown said. “I think a lot of people saw his sophomore film and we didn’t really have a consistent position with him. He was a kid we played everywhere, so a lot of people considered him as an athlete. A lot of people wanted to see that explosiveness. So then what he did was made a focus on, ‘This is what I’m doing in the offseason.’”
Simmons’ next position is yet to be determined.
Georgia talked about running back. Some Big Ten programs have pitched safety, while others see a linebacker. Some have been up front about not knowing where he’s best suited yet.
Simmons essentially wants to make it a difficult proposition. Coordinators and position coaches might be squabbling over it in the future.
“As schools take more looks at my film they’re like, ‘We don’t know what you’re gonna play,’” Simmons said. “Right now, this offseason is just about molding my body to get as big as possible and as fast as possible. Getting big without slowing down and getting as fast without trimming down. It’s gonna be a real big balance.”
Position is something Simmons has yet to consider as part of the recruiting process.
He’s taken visits. Michigan Stadium is right across the street from Pioneer. Michigan State played host earlier this month for a basketball game. He’s been to Notre Dame and Ohio State, among others. But he’s yet to formally narrow down the long list of offers or elevate favorites.
Right now the plan is to make a commitment next season, perhaps on senior night. But Simmons could hold out longer if he believes doing so will get more college coaches to his games.
Why? He thinks it could be an opportunity to give teammates college looks.
There might not be a lot of camps and combines this offseason as Simmons values working out back home quite a bit more. And those are the type of steps that has revealed to Brown much about Simmons over the last couple years.
“He’s a leader,” Brown said. “Just a natural leader. He’s always got a smile on his face, always positive about everything and he’s very mature. The conversations you have with him from a coaching perspective about the game, he’s very intelligent. He loves to study the game. There’s a lot of things that come into play that I think make him such a highly-touted kid. When coaches see his film they’re like, ‘Hey, this kid is pretty good.’ But then when they sit down and meet with him face to face, you can see he is who he is. When you have a conversation with him he’s not giving you anything else. He’s giving you himself.”