(6) ANTUAN SIMMONS-Cornerback-Safety, 5-10, 195, Sr.*/Sr.
CAREER: In his 4-year career, Simmons has blocked 6 kicks (4 field goals, 1 PAT and 1 punt), intercepted 9 passes (3 returned for touchdowns) and made 208 tackles.
2001: Simmons is the comeback story in college football in 2001. The inspirational, big-play senior, who has a proven record as a 4-year starting defensive back, bounced back from a serious illness in 2000, was impressive in 2001 spring practice, worked his way back into the starting lineup in 2001 fall drills and excelled. After starting his first 3 years at cornerback, he was moved to the starting free safety spot in the fall of 2001 (because of an injury to Chris Cash, he moved back to start at cornerback against California, UCLA and Utah). Overall in 2001 while starting all 12 games, he had 33 tackles, including 2 for losses of 10 yards (with an 8-yard sack), 2 interceptions that he returned 36 yards (18.0 avg.), including 1 for a TD, 3 deflections and 1 forced fumble. He was a team captain. He was invited to play in the Senior Bowl and Hula Bowl. He won USC's Co-Most Inspirational Player of the Year Award and Player of the Game versus UCLA Award.
In the San Jose State opener, he made 4 tackles in his first action since mid-November of 1999. He added 2 tackles and an interception against Kansas State, 5 stops at Oregon and then 2 more against Stanford and Washington. He had 2 tackles (with a sack) and forced a fumble against Arizona State, 3 stops at Notre Dame, 1 at Arizona, 4 tackles and a deflection against Oregon State and 3 stops at California. He'll long be remembered for his amazing, momentum-clinching between-the-legs interception that he returned 36 yards for a TD as the first quarter ended against UCLA (to go along with his 2 tackles, including 1 for a loss). He added 3 tackles against Utah.
2000: Simmons battled a life-threatening illness in 2000, but he overcame the adversity. He missed 2000 spring practice while recovering from back surgery. During followup from the back surgery, doctors discovered a benign abdominal tumor in May which required 2 surgeries; he was hospitalized for 6 weeks (coming close to death 3 times and losing 40 pounds). He redshirted the 2000 season while recuperating (he had additional surgery in November for a hernia).
1999: Simmons started for his third season at left cornerback as a junior in 1999. Overall in 1999 while starting USC's first 10 games, he made 49 tackles (fifth on USC), including 6 for losses of 22 yards (with 2 sacks for minus 9 yards), 10 deflections, 2 fumble recoveries (against Arizona, which he returned for a 44-yard TD, and Stanford), 1 forced fumble (versus Stanford), 3 interceptions (2 against Stanford, which led to a USC field goal and TD, and 1 at California) which he returned 44 yards (14.7 avg.) and 3 blocked kicks (a field goal and PAT at Notre Dame and a field goal against Arizona State). He was a 1999 Football News All-American honorable mention pick. He had surgery for a herniated disk in his lower back prior to the UCLA game, though, and missed USC's last 2 games (UCLA and Louisiana Tech) of 1999.
He had a team-best 5 tackles (including a sack) at Hawaii (along with a deflection). He added 4 stops and 2 deflections against San Diego State, then 6 tackles each versus Oregon and Oregon State. At Arizona, he had 5 stops and returned a fumble 44 yards for a TD. He had 9 tackles at Notre Dame (1 for a loss) and blocked 2 kicks (a field goal and PAT). Against Stanford, he intercepted 2 passes (leading to a USC field goal and touchdown) and recovered a fumble which he forced to go along with his 3 tackles. He had 3 stops (1 for a loss) and an interception in the end zone at California. Against Arizona State, he had 2 tackles (with a 7-yard sack), a deflection and a blocked field goal. He made 6 stops (1 for a loss) and broke up a pass at Washington State despite hampered by the back injury.
1998: Simmons played a dramatic role for USC at cornerback and on special teams as a 1998 sophomore. He started 5 games (California, Oregon, Washington, Stanford and UCLA) and was Ken Haslip's often-used backup in the others (he also came in during extra defensive back situations). Overall in 1998 while appearing in all 13 games, he made 55 tackles, including 2 for losses of 7 yards (with 2 sacks for minus 5 yards), plus he had 3 interceptions which he returned 119 yards (39.7 avg.) with 2 TDs, broke up 14 passes, forced a fumble and blocked 3 kicks. He was named to the 1998 All-Pac-10 second team and 3 times was the Pac-10's Player of the Week. He was moved to cornerback in 1998 after starting at rover linebacker and then strong safety in 1997. After the season, he had surgery to remove torn cartilage from his left ankle.
Against Purdue, he was all over the field, tying for the team lead in tackles (9), blocking a field goal, intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble that USC recovered and converted to a TD (he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance). He then had 2 tackles against San Diego State, 4 (2 for losses) against Oregon State and 3 at Florida State. Against Arizona State, he blocked a fourth quarter punt which Ifeanyi Ohalete ran back 14 yards for the decisive TD (Simmons was named Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week). He added 9 stops against California, 2 at Washington State and 6 at Oregon. He was spectacular against Washington, earning his second Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors in 1998 with 8 tackles, 6 deflections and 2 interceptions (he returned both for fourth-quarter TDs of 29 and 90 yards to tie a Pac-10 and USC game record for most scoring picks). He made 6 tackles and blocked a field goal at Stanford. He had 1 stop at UCLA and 2 versus Notre Dame and TCU in the Sun Bowl.
1997: Simmons made quite an impact as just a first-year freshman in 1997. After backing up David Gibson at the rover linebacker spot in the Florida State opener, he started USC's last 10 games of 1997, the first 5 at rover linebacker and then the last 5 at strong safety. He was named to the 1997 Sporting News Freshman All-American first team. Overall while appearing in all 11 games in 1997, he made 71 tackles (fourth on USC), including 8 for losses of 43 yards (with 4 sacks for minus 32 yards), plus had 1 interception (at Arizona State) which he ran back for 38 yards, 3 deflections, 1 fumble recovery (against UNLV) and 1 forced fumble (at Arizona State). He led the Trojans in tackles in 3 games (Washington State, UNLV and Stanford).
He had 4 stops against Florida State, a game-high 11 tackles (1 for a loss) versus Washington State, 3 stops (with a sack) and a deflection at California, a team-high 8 tackles (including a 13-yard sack), a fumble recovery and a deflection versus UNLV, 8 tackles (2 for losses, with a sack), a forced fumble and an interception (which he returned 38 yards) at Arizona State, 7 tackles (1 for a loss) at Notre Dame, 5 stops versus Oregon, 8 tackles (with a sack) at Washington, a team-high 9 tackles against Stanford, and then 4 stops against both Oregon State and UCLA (1 for a loss).
HIGH SCHOOL: He was named a 1996 Prep Star All-American, USA Today All-USA honorable mention, Super Prep All-Farwest, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, Prep Star Best in the West, and Sacramento Bee All-Area as a senior at Valley High in Sacramento (Calif.). As a quarterback in 1996, he passed for 1,150 yards and ran for 450 yards with 22 TDs. He once ran for a 94-yard score. In another game, he ran for 3 TDs and passed for 2 more.
As a 1995 junior, he made Cal-Hi Sports All-State Junior second team, Sacramento Bee All-Area, All-Metro and All-League as he rushed for 884 yards and 8 TDs on offense and posted 33 tackles and 5 interceptions on defense.
He also ran track at Valley, with a best of 10.5 in the 100 meters.
PERSONAL: He's a sociology major at USC. He was born in Memphis, Tenn. His sports idol is Deion Sanders. He has a 6-year-old daughter, Terisha.
ANTUAN SIMMONS ON: His battle with an abdominal tumor: "I didn't feel sick, so I wasn't really stressed at all?I wasn't scared of the actual surgery. It hurt more that I couldn't play in 2000. I just wanted to get the tumor out and go on with my life?I was only supposed to be in the hospital four or five days. I ended up being there six weeks. I almost passed away a few times?.First, after the surgery, I couldn't digest any food. I had a blockage in my intestine. Then I developed a big blood clot in my stomach. Then my lungs filled up with fluid. Then a lot of fluid gathered around my heart. When I laid on my back, I couldn't breathe?That's when it became a nightmare. I never knew I could feel like that?There were times in that hospital when I didn't know what was going on, when I was too weak to even turn around in bed. The first surgery took a lot of hours, but I was okay afterward. But after the second surgery, I was wiped out. I kept asking for medicine to put me asleep, because I didn't want to be awake?I didn't want to have all that time to look at the ceiling and think?It was so hard not to cry. I guess I didn't really realized how bad things were until the doctor came in and told me I almost passed, that I came close two or three times after the second surgery?Then there was the first time I saw the incision on my stomach. I saw that, with all those staples in it, and then I saw how bloated my stomach was, that was tough?I was like, 'Look at me.' My chest was sunk in, my jaw was sunk in. I had a big scar on my stomach?But the toughest times were in the mornings, when I'd be alone, just lying there. And that's all I had to do, just lay there. And wonder?I have a little daughter, so I was always thinking how I had to get back to her. I knew I couldn't leave my little girl?I'd been in the hospital so long, I was almost scared to leave. I didn't know if I was ready?When I got home, I didn't want to be seen. My family and friends came around and it lifted my spirits?I had so much going for me. I had everything in the palm of my hand. And just like that, it was all gone?If I had never injured my back (which led to the discovery of his tumor), I probably would already be in the NFL, but the doctors told me my cancer probably would have turned malignant. It makes you feel very fortunate?I have so many things to be thankful for. God has a funny way of working things out?I got a lot of support from my family and friends on the team. I also got a lot of support from USC. The Trojan Family feels real now. People came out of the woodwork, people I don't even know, to see me and to help my mom?I started rehabbing in January and all I can remember is that I threw up a lot. My energy, it just wasn't there. I kept asking myself, 'Why the hell did I choose this sport? Why did it have to be something as difficult as football?' But I love the game. I love to play it. So I just kept on chipping away?I learned you can't take anything for granted. You don't live life like you're invincible. You slow down. I think I'm more sensitive to other people now, to their feelings. You pay more attention to the people around you. And I don't complain about the little things like I used to. You know, the nagging little football injuries and stuff. I guess what I went through made me appreciate what I have?I'm going to make sure I get my degree. I tell the younger guys, 'Go to class and get your degree.' They don't believe it's me talking. I wasn't that way before. I was just football, forget class. Class wasn't one of my main priorities?I actually look forward to practices now. I wasn't supposed to be out in spring football practice so soon, but the doctors saw I was progressing on my conditioning faster than they thought, so they gave me the okay?At first, I didn't really want to participate in the tackling drills. My first time, one of the DBs in front of me got run over. On my first turn, it wasn't one of the best tackles I ever made. But I gave the runner a pop and got him to the ground?I'll probably be nervous about proving myself again. I know my teammates will be watching me and comparing me to how I was then with how I am now?But I'll be back!"
Switching from safety to cornerback in 1998: "My experience at safety did help me out on the corner--reading offenses, knowing what to expect in certain formations...Actually, it was harder playing safety. It's harder to guard a receiver because he can go in and out, unlike at corner where you can use the sideline. So working as a safety was a big help...I feel I'm on my way to being a really good corner. It takes a lot mentally, and repetition...Physically, I can play with anybody but mental lapses have hurt me. I guess I get complacent and start daydreaming...It's little things, like making mental mistakes here and there. I have to tighten up my game?Coach (Dennis) Thurman always tells us a cornerback has to have the shortest memory on the field. If you think about a play that you got beat on, you'll get beat again. Every play is a new play...I'd rather they throw my way. I like to compete. They're making my highlight film is the way I like to look at it."
His goal: "Hopefully I can win the Thorpe Award (given to the nation's top defensive back). I want to be one of the candidates for the Thorpe Award before I leave USC. It takes so much to have it happen. Your team has to win. The more your team wins, the more 'pub' you get. I'm going to work hard to get better and make it happen."
Blocking kicks: "You never know when a blocker is going to blow an assignment, so you've got to come hard every time. I see guys pointing at me saying, 'There's No. 6.' But if they're going to focus on trying to block me, that's going to open things for other guys."
Playing rover linebacker in 1997: "I played close to the line and ended up squaring off against tight ends, offensive linemen and fullbacks. I could usually use my athleticism to beat the block and I like mixing it up with the bigger guys. But if an offensive lineman got a hold of me, it was pretty much over."
Choosing USC: "I knew if I came to USC that I would have to compete every day for my position. If a person has to compete, that's going to make them better. If something is given to somebody, they're not going to work as hard to keep it."
His future plans: "It would be nice to play in the NFL, but so much has to happen between now and then. I would like to give it a shot, but I realize that there is more to life than football...I'd like to work with underprivileged kids. So many kids don't have a lot of opportunities and access that others do. I would like to be able to change some of that. I feel like I can do something."
WHAT OTHERS SAY: USC head coach Pete Carroll: "We're stunned he was even out at spring practice, let alone improving so rapidly. He really jumped right back into it. He was hitting the heck out of people and making plays?He's well ahead of where we thought he would be. We didn't think he would do much of anything in the spring."
His mother, Faye Simmons: "I'm amazed and I thank God. I knew he could recover and play football again, but I didn't think he could get back so fast. What we went through was scary, very scary. We almost lost him?If he hadn't gone for that follow-up exam on his back, we never would have found out about the tumor. God works in mysterious ways?After the surgery, it was so hard to see him that way. I still think about it all the time and cry. I told him I was not leaving L.A. to go home to Sacramento until we were leaving together. And I didn't."
Steve Bisheff, Orange County Register: "No one who knew him could believe this. Not after seeing him lay in that ICU hospital bed for six agonizing weeks, his once-muscular body emaciated, only the small, purring machine next to him allowing him to breathe. Not after they had to remove two softball-sized tumors from his stomach, then perform another major surgery to control his internal bleeding. Not after hearing that doctor tell him he came perilously close to dying not once, but two or three times. And yet, here he was, just a few short months later, his No. 6 jersey suddenly back in the middle of all the whirling action on USC's football practice field during spring drills. Antuan Simmons knocking down passes. Antuan Simmons knocking down ballcarriers. Antuan Simmons knocking down death?Forget about that phony network TV show. Antuan Simmons is the ultimate survivor."
USC cornerback Kris Richard: "Antuan intimidates receivers. You can see it on their faces that they don't want to go against him. The defense has the edge if a receiver can't get off the line?I definitely look up to him. He's a leader of the secondary. He motivates guys, pulls guys to the side and kind of gives his own teaching session. His experience is valuable."
Former USC wide receiver R. Jay Soward: "He surprised me a lot. He came out the first day of practice and talked to me a little. I had to say, 'I'll show him. Little boy, welcome to the big leagues.' And I ran right by him. But he came back and didn't back off."
**Includes 2 blocked field goals and 1 blocked PAT
#Includes 4 blocked field goals, 1 blocked PAT and 1 blocked punt
^Includes 1 returned for a touchdown
GAME-BY-GAME WITH ANTUAN SIMMONS