James Simpson Jr. has been around the Central High School football program for a decade.
His father, James Simpson Sr., is the team’s defensive coordinator, so the younger Simpson has had an up-close view of the Yellowjackets’ success (i.e. five state championship between 2007 and 2012) in the Ty Scroggins Era.
Now the team’s starting senior quarterback, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Simpson hopes to lead Central to its sixth state title Saturday, when the Yellowjackets (9-5) meet Belfry (13-1) in the Class 3-A championship game at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
So far this season Simpson has completed 87 of 185 passes for 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns while also running for four TDs. In the Yellowjackets’ 21-14 win over Elizabethtown last Friday night, Simpson threw for 178 yards and two TDs – including the game-winner to U’Kari Baker with 31 seconds left.
Q: How and when did you start playing football?
A: I was probably 5 years old, living with my dad, and he signed me up for the Flaget Rams at Mighty Mites. He was my coach and he asked me what position I wanted to play and I said, “Quarterback.” So as the years went past I started liking quarterback and kept playing it up til middle school, when I ended up going to receiver to try it. I really didn’t like (receiver) that much, so I came back to quarterback my ninth-grade year.
Q: What’s it been like seeing Central’s success up close?
A: It’s been fun, going to championships and all the games with them, learning the system before everybody else, knowing what to do, knowing what it takes to become a Central Yellowjacket. Seeing that one day, hopefully, I could go to this school and be a part of this football team and win a championship of my own. That was my goal ever since I saw my daddy and them win their first one. It was my goal to come to Central and win a championship.
Q: What’s it like to have that opportunity now?
A: It feels good because the beginning of the season we started out 0-4 and that really kind of hurt because I didn’t want to open my senior year 0-4. So after that (bye) week we took off I made a decision, we could keep having that losing streak or bounce back. So I decided to talk to my team, we came together and we came back and faced Waggener. We played our hardest and won the game.
Q: What was last week’s game like for you?
A: At the beginning of the game it was hard for me because I just had so much on my mind, with family and stuff. My momma (Nichole Sanders) she came back in town from Atlanta to see me play, so I was excited. I was too excited to play because I wanted to play hard for my momma, so for the first half we had some mistakes on the offensive end. So I told myself at halftime I had to calm down and come together by the second half. The first drive of the second half I threw a touchdown pass and it just really gave me inspiration to win the game. And when it came down to it the last play, with 30 seconds left in the game, I knew we had to score or it was going into overtime so I told the coach, “Just let me throw the ball to our best receiver, U’Kari.” I just threw it in the air for him to go get it, the only place he could catch the ball.
Q: If you win Saturday, what would it be like to share that moment with your dad?
A: It would be exciting because that’s all my daddy ever wanted for me to do is win a state championship on my own because he said that he’s doing this more for me than him, because he’s already won five rings. So it’ll just be a good moment for my dad to see me win something on my own without him being out there with me going through the plays and telling me what to do.
JAMES SIMPSON UP CLOSE
Sports: Football & basketball.
Student-athlete: James, a four-year member of the varsity football team, says his favorite class is math.
Family: James, 17, lives with his dad, James Simpson Sr.; his stepmom, Trena; and stepbrothers Ronnie, 22, and Kobe, 18.
Central coach Ty Scroggins says: “James has been in the program for 10 years now. He has grown up with Central football and has been to every state championship, so he knows how important this game is. Since he was 8 years old all he wanted to be was a Yellowjacket and now it’s his time.”