WESLEY Simonton will have a year to gear up for one of the biggest moments of his athletic career.
The former Jefferson linebacker and 2012 Class AA Defensive Player of the Year has joined the fledgling Kennesaw Sate University football program — which begins play next fall — as a walk on.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Simonton said. “It’s been a long dream. It’s something that I’ve had to work at and stay motivated. I’m just glad it all worked out.”
Simonton hasn’t played football since December 2012 when Jefferson beat Calhoun for the Class AA state title during his senior year. So he’s eagerly awaiting next year when the Owls, who will compete in the Big South Conference of Division I-FCS, play their inaugural season and he has a chance to earn his way onto the field. Simonton describes what it would feel like to do that.
“That will be something I’ll remember my whole life — getting back in those pads,” Simonton said.
Simonton spent his freshman year at the University of North Georgia, which does not field a football team. But he wasn’t ready to give up on his football career.
“I still had this burning desire to want to play,” Simonton said.
To help reach that goal, he enlisted the help of another former Dragon who was equally driven to return to the football field — Tyler Cole. Cole missed his entire senior season in 2012 with an injury.
“I decided one day that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right,” Simonton said. “I knew Tyler had that burning desire to play again … I knew he’d work his tail off. He would be dedicated as much as I was dedicated.”
The two trained for an entire year, working out around four times a week with the hope that an opportunity would open up at a school. Simonton said Cole helped him as much as he helped Cole.
“He pushed me even when I didn’t want to be pushed,” Simonton said. “I really think we both contributed a lot to each other, and that’s why we’re both playing college football.”
Cole landed at the University of West Georgia, and Simonton now has his chance at Kennesaw State, where he’ll play weakside linebacker.
Simonton said the opportunity at KSU wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Bob Pittard, a former football coach who now teaches at Jefferson, and Ray Lamb, the hall of fame football coach at Commerce from 1967-1988.
Both knew Simonton’s passion to play again and put in a good word for Simonton with Kennesaw State’s coaches. Simonton said he gives “100 percent credit” to the two for their efforts.
“Without their help, I would not be here right now at all,” he said. “It had to take a couple calls from some legends, from two particular legends that are well-known in the state of Georgia.”
Simonton’s original plan had been to walk on at Georgia, but Kennesaw State caught his attention with its coaches who had previously worked at well-established programs. Then a visit to the school won him over.
“I loved the campus,” Simonton said. “The campus is beautiful. And the environment here, I just love it pretty much.”
The fact that the earliest he can see the field is 2015 works in his favor, according to Simonton. Since the Owls won't play a football game until next fall, no one on the roster has a starting job and no one has seniority. Simonton is on equal footing with everyone else as the team practices and preps for next year.
“Everybody is in the same boat as I am,” he said. “We have a whole year to prove ourselves. I’ve had to do that my whole life … I’ve had to earn my respect, and that’s what I’m going to do here.”
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