Going into his fifth and final season at Penn State, defensive end Shane Simmons knows he has one more chance to live up to the expectations that followed him to Happy Valley as a four-star recruit after a stellar high school career at powerhouse DeMatha (Md.) Catholic.
After playing all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2017, Simmons was slowed by a foot injury the following season. He went into 2019 looking to gain more playing time, but he could not displace starters Yetur Gross-Matos or Shaka Toney and finished with 19 tackles in 13 contests in a reserve role.
However, whenever the 2020 football season begins, Simmons believes he can make an impact.
“I would describe it as overcoming adversity,” he said Wednesday in a Zoom conference call with the media. “I started off as a huge recruit and stuff, high expectations, pressure. I had a pretty good redshirt freshman year, and then all the other stuff popped up. And I've been working and battling through all that.
“It’s not what I planned, but the story isn’t finished yet, and I still believe that I can leave my mark at Penn State. This is a really important year for me. First off, it was schooling. I just graduated, so I got that degree out the way and I can mainly focus on football, getting better, and all that stuff. So this is a very important season for me.”
Despite no spring practice because of the coronavirus pandemic, head coach James Franklin released a depth chart last month that saw the 6-foot-3, 244-pound Simmons on the second team behind promising redshirt sophomore Jayson Oweh. When the Nittany Lions finally reconvene on campus, Simmons is sure to be in the mix to start, something he’s never done in college.
For now, he is home in Laurel, Md., training “in very small groups with people who are quarantined and who I trust,” he said.
“I’ve been running a lot, working out with some of my trainers,” he said. “Some of us have workout equipment for benching or squatting, all stuff that we do at Penn State. Workouts have been really good. I’ve put on, I would say, five pounds of pure muscle. I’ve been eating a lot more.”
Simmons is one of three fifth-year seniors on the defensive line, joining Toney (Imhotep Charter) and tackle Antonio Shelton on a unit that lost long-time position coach Sean Spencer to the New York Giants in the off-season. John Scott Jr. succeeded Spencer and knows he can count on strong leadership from the veterans.
“Everyone can lead for the D-line,” Simmons said. “Spence really brought in a very close group. We have been through a lot together on the field, off the field, personal stuff, everything. So everyone respects everyone’s opinion. We only worry about our group. If you worry about your group then everything else will fall into place.”
Simmons is close with Toney and Shelton given that they all entered Penn State in the same recruiting class. He said Toney, a strong pass rusher who went into college barely weighing 200 pounds, is now up to 250.
“That’s really good for him,” Simmons said. “He’s been real focused on his weight. He’s done a lot better with it. He’s still fast and quick and he’s really smart, too. From what I’ve seen, I’ve been with him since his freshman year, not much has changed with him. He’s perfected what he already brought to Penn State.”
Simmons is confident he can improve his level of play this season.