Coleman Corner: Time to confess thoughts on Simmons were wrong

Joel Coleman

Staff Writer

It’s time for me to fess up. No one likes to do this, but here we go. Ladies and gentlemen, I was wrong.

If you haven’t heard by now, this past Tuesday night, Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons was awarded the C Spire Conerly Trophy for being the best college football player in the state of Mississippi this season. I figured going into the event that he’d win. Simmons had an outstanding year with 59 tackles, 14.5 takedowns for loss, a sack, four pass breakups and a forced fumble. Beyond that, his massive presence frequently drew double teams that opened up opportunities for others. The stat books don’t measure that kind of stuff.

So yes, as I said, I thought he’d win. I wasn’t wrong about that. Now here’s where I was way off. I never thought Simmons’ Mississippi State career should have started to begin with given the controversy that surrounded his arrival. All Simmons did was come to Starkville and prove he was worth the gamble.

We all remember the events surrounding Simmons just after signing day in 2016. He was charged with simple assault when a video surfaced of an altercation in which Simmons struck a woman multiple times. Simmons ultimately pleaded no contest to the simple assault charge and was found guilty of malicious mischief. The woman that Simmons struck in the video was found guilty of disturbing the peace through fighting.

Jeffery Simmons was one of the most talented – maybe the most talented – high school players I ever laid my eyes on. However after I saw that video, no matter the circumstances of it or what led to it, I felt like MSU had no choice but to distance itself from Simmons. The powers that be at Mississippi State – athletic director Scott Stricklin and football coach Dan Mullen at the time – went another direction.

It was a bold move. On one hand, I got it. Prior to his incident, Simmons had a sparkling reputation. You’d have been hard-pressed to find anyone to say anything bad about Simmons. Stricklin and Mullen were banking on Simmons being the guy he’d been all of his life instead of the guy captured on a cellphone camera doing something regrettable for a few seconds.

On the other, I thought it was a mistake. If Simmons ran into any trouble, any trouble at all, over his time as a Bulldog, it would forever leave a stain on MSU as the school that stupidly allowed Simmons in despite the humongous red flag over his head.

As great as Simmons was on the football field, personally, I didn’t think it was worth it. It wasn’t worth the public relations hit Mississippi State would surely take. It wasn’t worth people risking their professional careers. Again, I was completely, unquestionably at this point, wrong.

Simmons came to Mississippi State and has done nothing but prove those dreadful moments caught on tape were nothing more than one gigantic mistake. He never made excuses. He never once brushed away a question about the altercation when a reporter brought it up. He met everything head on.

Simmons excelled in the classroom. He is a two-time member of the Southeastern Conference’s Academic Honor Roll. He has over a 3.0 grade point average. He’s been one of MSU’s most active student-athletes when it comes to community service. Quite frankly, since coming to Mississippi State, Simmons has been the model for what other student-athletes should aspire to be – dominant on the field and a role model off it.

Sure, the fight caught on camera will never fully go away. Throughout his MSU career, everyone from fans to other reporters have taken shots at Simmons. He’ll surely have to answer questions about his past as National Football League teams consider taking him in the upcoming draft. Simmons won’t ever be able to get away from it, but to this point, what Simmons can do is point to it and be a shining example of how people can come back from even the worst of circumstances when given a second chance.

To be fair, someone was always going to give Simmons a second chance. He was a five-star football player that if Mississippi State hadn’t taken, another school most certainly would’ve. A lesser athlete probably wouldn’t have been granted so much grace. That’s just the world we live in.

To Simmons’ everlasting credit though, he didn’t abuse the opportunity Mississippi State gave him. The Bulldogs stuck with Simmons and Simmons rewarded them handsomely for their trust.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the whole situation. I thought it was a disaster waiting to happen. It was anything but. It was a story of redemption.

What Jeffery Simmons did nearly three years ago wasn’t right. No matter the explanation, men shouldn’t hit women. End of story. Simmons himself has admitted countless times how big of a mistake it was.

Words weren’t enough though. Simmons had to prove his remorse by doing all he could to show his life wasn’t defined by a bad decision and a few terrible seconds. That’s exactly what he did.

All you can do after a mistake is put your head down and work every single day to move past it. That’s what Simmons did.

I was wrong about Jeffery Simmons. I’m incredibly glad to say that turned out to be the case.

Joel Coleman is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are Coleman's and not necessarily the views of the SDN or its staff.