Finding a Diamond in the Rough
by Brian North

Brandon Simmons is not listed in the ECU media guide. The sophomore running back was pretty much an unknown to most Pirate fans before he burst on the scene against Virginia carrying the ball 17 times for 57 yards and scoring his first collegiate touchdown. Not bad for a guy who wasn't on the team until January of this year. But where did Simmons come from, and how come no one discovered him earlier?

Brandon Simmons' story is an interesting one. He was an honor roll student and a star running back at Hobbton High School in Newton Grove in Sampson County just north of Clinton. He rushed for over 4,500 yards in three years and along with his brother Jason (also a member of the ECU football program) led the Wildcats to the third round of the playoffs in 2003. But playing at a small 1-A high school, Brandon was over looked by division one colleges. Instead, he signed with division two Elizabeth City State University and played defense. As a true freshman he recorded 31 tackles and picked off three passes.

But Simmons wanted to take a crack at a D-1 school, so he transferred to ECU and walked on. Skip Holtz said he caught a lot of people's attention during winter drills with the way he trained and the effort he put in.  Then when he put on pads in August, the coaching staff put him at fullback. Holtz said "we made the decision to keep him because of how hard he worked, and the toughness that he showed. We then moved him to tailback because every time he was at fullback, he impressed us with his quickness and speed." Simmons showed his power and speed when he scored against UVA. He plowed across the goal line from five yards out in the first quarter. And he showed his toughness when he got stitches in his chin during the game and continued to play. That endeared him to the coaching staff who looks for players to run through proverbial brick walls no matter the physical price.

So the question is, how was Simmons overlooked coming out of high school? I asked Holtz, who was not at ECU at the time, how that could happen. He said sometimes kids slip through the cracks because of the evaluation process. "A big part of high school recruiting is exposure. There are a lot of really good high school players that have a chance to go to college who haven't had the opportunity to be evaluated. So many people get caught up in how many stars are next to a young man's name and think that's going to make them a great player. There are good players with talent and work ethic and with character who have a chance to develop who never get seen by the right people, but stay the course and turn into great players."

It's always great to find stories like Brandon Simmons'. He is certainly living out his dream and will continue to see playing time even when injured players like Chris Johnson return to the lineup. And it's a great lesson for young players who feel like they are being overlooked. Sometimes you have to take the back roads to reach your destination.
Brian North