Most Marshall University football fans were surprised.
When they noticed Shane Simmons’ name listed as a starter at defensive end, there was a group “Who’s he?”
That’s because the fans don’t know Simmons like the guys in MU’s defensive line room know Simmons.
They call him “War Daddy.”
For good reason.
It’s because Simmons is a fifth-year senior who stands 6-foot-4, weighs 246 pounds and puts the “Thunder” in Thundering Herd.
That’s why Simmons will be a starter when Marshall takes on the Naval Academy at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at Annapolis, Maryland.
Yet there was a time not so long ago when Simmons believed his college football career was over.
“Right after Penn State, I thought I was finished with football,” said Simmons, who spent five injury-prone seasons with the Nittany Lions. “I was working on a real estate job and feeling out the business world.
“But being back at home and not really being a part of something bigger, it just made me feel like, ‘Look, I have one more year, might as well play.’ It was just dangling out there.”
Guess who was doing the dangling.
First-year Marshall coach Charles Huff.
“Huff is amazing,” said Simmons with a smile. “I met him probably my freshman year of high school [in Laurel, Maryland]. I think he was at Vanderbilt then, and he was the one that brought me to Penn State. So now, to play for him, and him being at Alabama and very successful at other programs ...”
It was meant to be?
“Exactly,” replied Simmons. “But I think everything happens for a purpose. My body was better. I didn’t play spring ball, so my body could just recover.
“I feel way better now. I am moving better. And being at Marshall, I’ve gotten much stronger and faster. I beat a lot of my PRs [personal records]. I beat my PR on squat, bench and power-clean. Coach BA [Ben Ashford, director of sports performance] is amazing. The workouts at Marshall really have a purpose. He really explains everything, and we buy in.”
See why the defensive room refers to Simmons as War Daddy?
“Oh, yeah, I love the work,” he said. “I love being a ‘War Daddy.’ I feel like me playing at Penn State for five seasons, I’ve got much more focus. Penn State really made me grow as a man and I feel like I can bring that here to Marshall with my focus and the way I work.”
Simply put, Simmons has been there, done that.
“I’m really focused,” he said. “I’ve got one mission. And that’s to bring a championship here. My main priority is Marshall football and making the program better.”
That starts Saturday when Marshall visits Navy.
And who is going to be a key figure in defending against the Midshipmen’s famous triple-option offense? None other than that surprise starter on Marshall’s depth chart — Shane Simmons.
Just call him War Daddy.