The Big House is literally a few first downs away from Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Hollway Field. In fact, Pioneer followers who want to attend a home game often have to sidestep maize-and-blue faithful who park their campers on school grounds the night before a Wolverines’ contest.
So, why then, has Antjuan Simmons, the Pioneers’ best college prospect, given his verbal commitment to Ohio State? He wasted no time tweeting his choice out last March 1, and hasn’t wavered from his dedication to the Scarlet and Grey.
“Everything’s real good with them,” Simmons said after Pioneer’s 44-0 victory over cross-town rival Huron Friday night. “I’m looking to get down there and visit (officially) in the next few weeks.”
Does that mean other schools – namely Michigan, and Michigan State – have backed off?
“Of course (they’re still after me), it’s a recruiting process. A lot of schools are still going to recruit me, and that’s it, really,” he said.
He doesn’t feel slighted because nobody wearing a block M and khakis has been sleeping on his couch, though.
“I don’t really have anything to say about that,” Simmons said. “It’s a recruiting process; they wanted their guys early on and it just went from there. I don’t have anything bad to say about their coaches; I have the utmost respect for those guys, and we’ll just go from there.”
A Free Press Dream Team running back from last fall, the Buckeyes will look to use the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Simmons primarily at linebacker. When he carries the ball, it takes several tacklers to bring him down. But Simmons also leads the Pioneer defense from the middle, where he hits hard, can get in the backfield quickly and is adept at pass coverage, too.
Friday, he helped set the tone for the blowout win by stepping in front of a Huron pass and returning it 36 yards for a touchdown. On offense, he carried the ball 5 times for 47 yards, and had one would-be 39-yard scoring sprint called back due to a penalty.
The Pioneers’ really didn’t need to give Simmons the ball much, given that teammate Dexter Ferrell scored on outside runs of 37, 63 and 37 yards. But that was fine with Simmons, who said it was more of a lift for his team to beat a cross-town rival after the Pioneers underwhelmed in their first three games.
“We were real hungry to get our first win and get this thing turned around. We’re in a playoff atmosphere right now, so we’ve just got to play hard, play with an attitude and come to play,” he said.
The Pioneers’ were expected to be one of the top Division 1 teams in the state – and still may be – so Simmons said the Pioneers were surprised to reach week four while still looking for their first W.
“I’m not even going to lie to you,” he said. “We had real, real high expectations and the talent level is there. It was a good learning experience for us; it showed us that we can’t just have talent to win games. We’re really coming together as a team right now.”
After losing big to a powerful Muskegon team in the season opener, the Pioneers dropped closer games to University of Detroit-Jesuit and Southeastern Conference foe Temperance Bedford.
Pioneer coach Jari Brown said the Muskegon loss affected his team’s performances in the second and third games.
“I don’t think our kids knew the magnitude of who we were playing, and I think we had a hangover from that game,” he said. “Week two was a short turnaround, playing Thursday after Saturday, and I don’t think we really had time to heal and move on.”
Brown and Simmons both say the team is gradually putting things together, and the Huron win brought confidence back.
“We executed; it was a lot better than the past few weeks,” Simmons said. “We came out on defense first and set the tone, got a three-and-out, hit a few guys. We spent all of our practices working hard and getting our base stuff right and it really showed. It’s not where we wanted to be, but it’s a lot better than what it was last week.”
The Pioneers hopes to continue the momentum with league rivals Monroe and Saline coming up. “I really want to get to the level that I want to play at, keeping it real humble, making me play for my brothers, play with my heart and play with a chip on my shoulder. A lot of people are still doubting us and I want to prove them wrong.”