By JOHNNY MOORE
GoDuke The Magazine
When Duke offensive tackle Perry Simmons was first approached about redshirting during his freshman year, he said a coach gave him a great way of looking at the opportunity:
“You take your worst year as a player when you are a freshman, when you have the least experience about the game, and trade it for your best year when you are a seasoned veteran, the strongest and the most experienced.”
Simmons thought that sounded pretty good, took the advice and has used that extra year to become one of the most experienced and best offensive linemen in the ACC heading into his fifth season with the Blue Devils.
During the past four years Simmons has changed his body to fit his position. When he first came to Duke, he bulked up to over 300 pounds, but this summer he worked hard to lose 10 pounds, sustain his strength in the weight room and add quickness and speed to his game.
“I have definitely changed my body from where I was last year heading into the season,” explained Simmons, who now stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 295 pounds. “It’s all about being quicker. The faster you can move as an offensive tackle, the quicker you can react and the better you can protect and carry out your assignments. It really helps to be as athletic as possible when you have to go against the speed and quickness of the defensive ends we have to face.”
Simmons has molded his body several times since coming to Duke, bulking up as soon as he got to campus.
“I gained about 30 pounds during my freshman year, which I needed to gain in order to compete,” he explained. “But not all that weight was good weight. I have tried to stay at that weight but turn more of it into useful weight, the kind of weight that makes me stronger, faster and have endurance to play a lot of plays.”
Simmons has taken full advantage of his five years of college football, not only growing physically, but learning a great deal about what it takes to be an offensive tackle.
Entering his fifth year, he can explain in one word where he feels he has an advantage.
“Experience. Just the fact I have three years of playing ACC football under my belt. I have seen and played against the best players and understand the game,” he noted. “It helps me to recognize defenses and understand what the defense is going to do. My first year on the field, I’m in a box thinking about what the guy in front of me and the guy beside me are doing. Now I can think about what the quarterback is doing, what the running back is doing, and it really helps to understand your place in the offense.”
That relentless work each year has led to Simmons being one of the more decorated players on the team as well as one of the most experienced players.
In 2010, his redshirt freshman year, Simmons garnered honorable mention Freshman All-America selection by College Football News. He was the recipient of the Mike Suglia Award, an honor presented annually to the sophomore member of the Duke football program who best exemplifies the academic and athletic qualities of the late Mike Suglia. He started all 12 games at right tackle, played 832 total snaps for the year with a season-best 93 snaps against Miami. He was quickly gaining experience as an offensive lineman.
In 2011 he received the program’s K.D. Kennedy Iron Devil Award after leading the team in snaps with 972, starting all 12 games at right tackle. His athletic ability and endurance showed as he topped the 70-play plateau in 11 of 12 games, including a season-high 102 snaps against Wake Forest.
During a stellar junior season, he was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his play in the win over North Carolina and listed as a preseason second team All-ACC pick. Simmons heads into his senior season with incredible experience on his side.
In 40 career games, he has played a total of 3,012 snaps. He is currently on a streak of 40 consecutive starts, marking the longest streak among active ACC players. The 40 total starting assignments leads all active players in the conference while ranking him tied for 11th nationally
“It really helps when you have a fifth-year player because he understands how to make adjustments during the game better than the younger players,” said Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “On the sidelines between plays, when you make those changes in blocking schemes, a player with that much experience can see what you’re talking about and understand exactly what he has to do sooner than a younger player. The experience factor alone is huge for a fifth-year player. They are older, and just have more experience playing the game.”
“Knowing how the whole offense operates on a certain play and within the entire gameplan is something that’s hard to understand when you are younger,” said Simmons. “You are really concentrating on the guy in front of you and how you’re going to stop him. Now as a fifth-year senior you understand the adjustment, you start to grasp the changes to the offense and why they need to be made. In understanding the adjustments I think it helps you to remember in the heat of the battle the adjustment and what it means to the entire team.”
A very bright young man, Simmons holds a 3.83 grade point average as a civil engineering major, having garnered several Academic All-ACC and All-America awards.
That intelligence factor gives him an advantage, as does the fact he grew up learning the game under a pretty good coach — his father.
Brette Simmons played collegiately at Furman. A four-year letterman for the Paladins as well as a two time All-Southern Conference selection, Brette had quite a college career with 82 receptions for 1,197 yards and nine touchdowns while serving as captain of Furman when it captured the conference title in 1978.
Perry’s father went on to work as an assistant coach with the N.C. State Wolfpack for 12 years from 1987-98, serving as receivers coach and recruiting coordinator during his tenure.
“I grew up around the game with my dad being a coach, getting the opportunity to go to practice and go to games. I knew early on that I wanted to be a football player,” the younger Simmons said. “My dad never forced me to play football, but when I decided I wanted to play football in middle school he was always there to help me, give me guidance and wisdom about the game and answer any and all of my questions.
“Coachability is the one thing that my dad gave me,” added Simmons, who attended Sanderson High School in Raleigh and was a 4A all-state selection his senior year. “Growing up with someone that knew so much about football, it really made me so I understood coaching, had a great deal of respect for coaches and helped me to learn maybe a little faster than other players.”
Simmons has used his five years at Duke to grow and learn in all sorts of ways.
In May of 2012, Simmons joined nine teammates on a mission trip to Langano, Ethiopia for a water well-digging project.
“I saw first-hand what it meant to not have clean drinking water,” said Simmons. “The trip to Ethiopia was definitely a transforming trip for me. I experienced a culture and people I had never seen before. I came into contact with the water crisis that affects so many people in the world who have no clean water for drinking or bathing. It was eye-opening to see these people with no clean water, something we take for granted every day.”
Simmons said when he left Ethiopia he wanted to do something for the people he had encountered.
“I came back and started looking into getting involved with an organization where I could do something to help with this crisis and found Water Missions International information at the engineering school,” he explained.
Water Missions International is a non-profit Christian engineering organization providing sustainable safe water and sanitation solutions for people in developing countries and disaster areas. They state their mission as an engineering ministry that transforms lives through sustainable safe water solutions.
“Hopefully I can apply some of the concepts I have learned in civil engineering to help,” Simmons added. “Whenever I am done with football I want to be involved with one of the nine different projects they have around the world and try to make a difference.”
Thankfully for Duke fans, Simmons is not yet done with football and feels something different about this football team as it gets ready for the new season after breaking some barriers last year.
“Every year you feel at the start of the season that you can do something special. This year we don’t think we can do something special, we know we can do something special because we have done it,” said Simmons, referring to the Devils’ 2012 bowl season. “Last year we tasted success, we’ve been there, we know how good it feels to win three games in a row. We know how to work together. We also know we didn’t finish the season the way we wanted to and we still have that hunger. We were close, but we really didn’t have the truly special season that we could have had. We know we have to work harder and use our level of maturity to make things happen.”