Since the Big House casts a big shadow in Ann Arbor, how ironic is it that the two top players from the city are bound for East Lansing?
Linebacker Antjuan Simmons of Pioneer signed his national letter of intent Wednesday with Michigan State and will join early enrollee wide receiver Hunter Rison of Skyline High in green and white.
For Rison — the son of former Spartan and NFL wide receiver Andre — the pedigree provided a natural link. But for Simmons — whose school is literally in the shadow of Michigan Stadium — the route was a lot more complicated.
A 6-foot-1, 215-pounder who received 42 scholarship offers, Simmons tweeted last March that he was committing to one of the Wolverines’ big rivals, Ohio State. When things didn’t seem to work out there, Simmons reopened his search in November, only to settle on another U-M rival earlier this month.
And he took some flak for considering either school.
“It was definitely hard,” Simmons said. “It was Monday and I was sitting in class and somebody said, ‘man, you just don’t like Michigan, do you?’ I’m like, ‘It’s not like that, you know.’ They’re great people, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. For the most part, the majority of the people I talk to, they’re happy for me. They’re happy to see me going to place I like, to play.
“Just because I go to school across the street or down the road doesn’t mean I’m obligated to go there.”
It wasn’t a bad campaign for Michigan, which nabbed the top six recruits on the Detroit Free Press’ Fab 50 list before Simmons (seventh) and Rison (eighth) broke the string. Simmons was also the highest-ranked blue-chipper in this class to flip his choice.
“I’m a big guy on relationships, and (Ohio State) was just a place that really felt like it was right for me at the time, but it’s a recruiting process, and things changed, and I went from there,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was one complete factor that made me do it, but it was just a lot of different things that took place. Things were not bad, really; I can’t complain about where I am today. I’m happy to sign with Michigan State, and I’m ready to get after it.”
Simmons said Rison even played a role in prompting the flip.
“Even when I was with Ohio State, he was getting on me every other week and saying, ‘man, I need you, I need you over here,’ ” Simmons said. “We’re actually pretty cool. I actually spent some time with Hunter over the weekend when I went down there for the (Michigan State-Michigan basketball) game. Me and him sat down for 15 minutes and talked.”
At 3-9, Michigan State underachieved last season — but so did Pioneer (3-6) — so Simmons wasn’t put off by the Spartans’ recent turn of fortune.
“Everybody goes through ups and downs,” he said. “It’s football; you never know what’s going to happen. Nobody is promising anything to you — if you win a few games last year, that doesn’t mean you’re going to win a few games this upcoming year. You’ve still got to get out there and work, and some things didn’t fall their way, but you’ve just got to come back ready to work.
“If you look at their history, this is Coach D’s first losing season since he’s been there, right? So the past five, six years he’s won 50-some games. I have complete trust in the coaching staff to turn that program around. I’m not worried about that.”
Actually, several Pioneer football players were in the spotlight during Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony in the school gym. Tight end Derrick Hubbard (No. 38 on the Free Press list) signed with Western Michigan and wide receiver Cedric Benton signed with Grand Valley State.
Tight end Jordan Nwogu signed with Michigan for baseball. Terius Wheatley, who used to attend Pioneer before going to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, has enrolled early at Virginia Tech. He was represented in the Pioneer ceremony by younger brother Tyrique. Both are sons of former Wolverine standout Tyrone Wheatley, who signed on with the Jacksonville Jaguars last month as running backs coach.