Cougs first to offer California DL

<b>WASHINGTON STATE, which found a gem of a d-lineman in Fairfield two years ago, is hoping to strike gold again in Northern California. WSU thinks Derek Simmons, senior-to-be from the same high school that sent them Aaron Johnson, is on track to follow in Johnson's footsteps -- so much so that they're the first school to offer the 6-5, 272-pound bulldozer. CF.C talked with Simmons and his prep coach about the future, and the uncommon inspiration Johnson provides all the players at Armijo High.

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Simmons is big and quick, but more than anything he has an abundance of raw talent, according to Armijo High head man Mike Singer.

"He has a lot of ways that he can improve, college-wise, but he's just got such great feet, " Singer says. "He can actually play linebacker -- he's just that quick. When he goes to our passing leagues, he actually plays linebacker."

Besides Washington State, Simmons has an offer from nearby Sacramento State, with Boston College expected to have one on the table any day now. Northwestern figures to be close behind, with Washington and Cal, among others, lurking.

Simmons says it's too early to pick a frontrunner. Washington State, though, clearly is a school that intrigues him, saying he thinks "it would be smart to go there" because Aaron Johnson -- a starter for the Cougars last year as a second-year freshman -- is in Pullman.

"We're pretty good friends," Simmons said of his fellow Armijo product. "He comes in now and lifts with us whenever he's down here."

"Alright! Who wants to work?!"

So rings the battle cry from the 6-6. 310-pound Johnson upon his arrival in the Armijo weight room, something Johnson does at every opportunity when home on a break.

Singer, who talks with Johnson every week, said the big Cougar's early success at WSU is a powerful motivator for his kids.

"He comes back and tells them 'You've got to get (to college) -- You can do it!', and he works out with them. And they get so excited. He'll take eight or nine of them out and they'll do all the foot drills -- they all stay after school to work out with him.

"The kids will say (to Johnson), 'Ah, you won't be there after your junior year,'" said Singer. "And he says, 'Oh, yes I will. I'm getting my degree.'"

That focus on academics is also important to Simmons. Besides a strong football program and assistant coaches with a spark, an important factor in deciding where to play college ball will be a school's player graduation rate, he says.

LAST SEASON, Simmons began the year at 245 pounds. Through rigorous weight training --- so time consuming that he's passing up on playing baseball this spring --- Singer is already up to a jaw dropping 272 pounds. More than 15 of those pounds have come in the last two months.

With a bench press at 290 and rapidly rising, Simmons is tantalizingly close to membership in Armijo's exclusive "One Ton Club" -- a group reserved for those who can heft one ton of weight spread over six different lifts.

Simmons is so athletic that tight end will be added to his resume in 2005, Singer says. The league MVP in basketball this past season, Singer said the lad has a great set of hands.

On defense, he'll continue to rotate between defensive tackle and end but things might switch a bit this year -- last year, he was a defensive end that also moved inside from time to time. At 272-pounds in April, he might be spending increased time inside this season.

In 2004, Simmons racked up 72 tackles (49 solo) with 12 of them going for sacks. He also had two fumble recoveries, two INTs and his expansive reach resulted in a boatload of batted down passes. He was named named All-Monticello Empire League lineman of the year and was a second team selection of The Sacramento Bee's All-Metro team. Academically, Simmons is enrolled in some challenging, advanced courses and will take his SAT later this year.

"He's working towards getting somewhere -- he's not sitting around resting on his laurels," said Singer. "He's working hard to make sure his grades are right and he works every day... I think he's got a lot of (potential) and things can go very well for him -- as long as he keeps working hard."

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