Simmons headed to Eastern Carolina University

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OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High senior quarterback Walter Simmons had one thing in mind when choosing his college for his next phase of football playing; actually two. One, choose a program that would offer an immediate opportunity for the athletically-gifted signal-caller, and, two, a pseudo-birthday present for his mom with a choice that the family would be able to attend an many games as possible.

On the table was NCAA national champion LSU, but Simmons chose away from Baton Rouge a bit more east and north.

"He wanted to go somewhere where he could make a quick impact," said Walter Simmons, II, the father end of a three-tier football Walter Simmons package that included Grandpop Simmons at number one and quarterback Walter at No. III. "He didn't want to be a four year high school starter then sit around for four years before getting a shot at college."

Simmons gathered friends and family for a quick reveal as he was surrounded by nearly 30-35 fans in his living room to tell the football world that East Carolina University in Greenville, SC, will be his next football home.

"I wanted to make my commitment on my mom's birthday," said Simmons, who has tendered offers since his first in the spring of his freshman season. "The coaches and the college environment are what I was looking for in the final choice and that was what was important for this choice."

As for the 2020 season, Simmons maintains that his readiness to play has always been his strength.

"I just keep grinding and stay prepared with my own workouts and film because whatever happens happens and I can't control it," said Simmons. "My dad and grandfather are big influences to embrace the grind."

Pop Simmons, Walter No. II, and Grandpop Simmons, Walter No. 1, both know the rigors of each level of football with both being standout players; Ed Waters for Grandpop and Bethune Cookman for Pop, plus short stints in the NFL; Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.

"This has been a long-time coming," said Pop Simmons. "Me and dad have been to the front door, but Walter wants to walk through that door and get his shot in the NFL. I think Walter made the best decision for himself and family."

Simmons, with a 7-3 record last year after a 5-6 campaign in 2018 that earned a playoff spot and a 2-9 freshmans season, returns to a lineup chock full of offensive weaponry that should highlight his immense quarterback intelligence, says Oakleaf High head coach Frank Garis.

"The one play that stands out for me is an 80 yard run he had against Gainesville that he made the right read on an option and absolutely stomped his foot in the ground to break away and outran everyone 80 yards for the touchdown," said Garis. "East Carolina is very blue collar grinder mentality which is who Walter is. Schematically, they are very much like our approach."

Garis, who has had a bevy of talent at his fingertips even before Oakleaf with his stint at Ponte Vedra High in a state runnerup finish three years ago, commented that Simmons brings a multitude of talent to the table for East Carolina..

"I don't put top 10 numbers on guys, but Walter would be near the top of that list," said Garis. "We have had great players at Oakleaf and at my other schools. Walter is in that mix of great football players."

East Carolina, 4-8 last year and 3-9 in 2018, with a history of quarterbacks that have been on the annual Manning Award Watch List for the best quarterback in the NCAA, will have junior Holton Ahlers back to probably direct the Pirates high-octane offense. Ahlers, a two-year starter for the Pirates, has over 5,000 yards in those two years with 33 scores and just 13 touchdowns. The Pirates started a bit behind par in the first six games with just over 200 yards twice before clicking for passing yard totals of 535, 498, 374 and 308 for the final four games with 14 scores.

"I chose East Carolina because they told me I was the only quarterback they were recruiting," said Simmons. "They said I got everything, football-wise, on the board that fits their system. "Their offense is just like ours at Oakleaf."

East Carolina plays in the American Conference with the likes of South Florida, Central Florida, Southern Methodist U, Temple, Cincinnati, Navy, Tulsa and Tulane. The American Conference talent pool put 17 players into the NFL draft last year with four teams in the NCAA final Top 25; Memphis (12-2 and the American Conference champion at 17th), Navy (at 20th, 11-2), Cincinnati (at 21st, 11-3) and Central Florida (at 24th, 10-3).

As for the 2020 season, Simmons maintains that his readiness to play has always been his strength.

"I just keep grinding and stay prepared with my own workouts and film because whatever happens happens and I can't control it," said Simmons. "My dad and grandfather are big influences to stay with the grind."

Pop Simmons, Walter No. II, and Grandpop Simmons, Walter No. 1, both know the rigors of each level of football with both being standout players; Ed Waters for Grandpop and Bethune Cookman for Pop, plus short stints in the NFL; injuries besetting both.

One of Pop Simmons fondest memories, one that revealed his son's character, was an inopportune interception in Oakleaf playoff game that ended in overtime with an interception at the goal line.

"It took him a while to get past that one, but I told him you win some, you lose some, football is an 11 man sport and quarterbacks will get the blame. If they didn't tip it, it was a score," said Simmons II. "Quarterback has to have tough skin. His best effort was 69 points in 2018 against Bartram Trail in a 69-53 win with three passing scores and two run scores."

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