CLARION, Penn. — After torching high school defenders at New Palestine, Connor Simmons has continued to throw touchdown passes at the collegiate level.
Once the regular-season passing leader for the Dragons, Simmons is currently playing his senior season at Division II Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where he was recently named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Week.
As a senior, Simmons threw for a then-record 37 touchdowns for New Palestine. Alex Neligh, who graduated last season, broke that record last year in the state title loss to Ft. Wayne Snider.
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He was 19-3 as a starter for the Dragons and led the team to two Hoosier Heritage Conference titles and an undefeated regular season in 2011.
Simmons threw for 2,795 yards in 2011, which ranks second in school history behind Neligh. He is also third all-time in career passing yards (3,289) and career touchdowns (39).
After attending a Erie Community College (New York) his first season, Simmons transferred to Clarion and has been the starting quarterback ever since.
On pace to break the career passing records for the Eagles (1-1), the 6-foot-3 Simmons threw for 3,582 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.
In the team’s Week 1 win against Lock Haven University this year, he threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns to earn the conference’s top honor.
The Daily Reporter spoke with Simmons to talk about his college career and what’s working for him at the college level.
DR: What sports did you play at New Palestine in addition to football and how did the school help prepare you for college?
CS: I played two years of basketball and baseball and football all four years. To be honest, I don’t think I was that prepared for college on the football aspect of things, just because I had no idea the amount time that was spent on football. I wasn’t prepared for the 5:30 a.m. freshman lifts Monday, Friday and Wednesday. I wasn’t ready to go straight from lifting to meetings, and then after practice have two hour study tables Monday through Thursday. The thing New Palestine prepared me most with was going from class immediately to putting on the gear and going out to practice. You have to adapt quickly to it and adjust on the fly, because in college coaches don’t tolerate missing things or being late.
DR: What is the biggest difference between the high school game and college, especially at the QB position?
CS: The biggest difference in my opinion from high school to college football is the amount of time you have to put into game week. Each and every week as a quarterback we’re meeting Sunday through Friday for one hour a day, four two-hour practices a week and then meeting as an offensive unit three days a week for a total of three hours. As a quarterback, I have to know everything that’s going on with every play, every player on offense and then be able to know what coverage teams are playing and when they’re going to blitz or sit back. So when I’m not watching film with the coaches or practicing, I’m watching film at home by myself to get that extra workout in. It’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s what I love to do.
DR: How did your first few seasons go compared to now? Was there a big learning curve?
CS: Freshman year didn’t go as I wanted, you know from starting in high school to redshirting and sitting out it was definitely tough on me because I wanted to play. I think that’s how every freshman feels. I thought I knew everything but when I got to college I found out real quick that I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t be more happy with how things worked out. Sophomore year here was tough, again, I thought I should’ve started right away here but ended up not winning the position over until about the Week 3. From then on I left no doubt in the coaches minds that I was going to be the starter for the next three years. My junior year I had a setback with right shoulder surgery in the winter and didn’t know if I’d be able to make it back in time for the season but I put a lot of time in with the trainers and in the weight room. That’s when things really started to click for me. The game almost has slowed down when I’m playing and it showed statistically that year.
DR: What did it mean to you to earn player of the week. Have you received other college awards?
CS: Getting player of the week was an awesome feeling to start off my senior year of football. That’s the second time I’ve gotten the honor, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to be awarded that without the five lineman in front of me giving me protection and the weapons that are at the skill positions around me catching and making the plays. They really make my job easy. I was a Harlon Hill (Division II Heisman) candidate my junior year and Don Hanson 3rd Team All Region team member. I have broken all of the single season passing records at Clarion and have the potential to break all of the career passing records, too.
DR: What do you feel is your best attribute on the field and do you have advice for high school kids wanting to play at the next level?
CS: Best attribute on the field is my pocket presence and being able to maneuver around in the pocket or escape a collapsed pocket. My advice for high school kids playing at the next level is to shoot for the highest level that you can. The best decision I ever made was leaving New Palestine and going to play at the junior college level because I knew my abilities and knew I was good enough to get a scholarship to play somewhere. I just needed to prove to coaches and get film playing against elite talent to show them. Junior college gave me the opportunity to be able to play in the PSAC which is one of, if not the toughest football conference in all of Division II. Most of all, if you have an opportunity to play a sport at the college level, do not pass it up, because it is hands down the greatest experience and most fun I’ve had in college.
DR: What are you planning on doing with life after football?
CS: I plan on going to graduate school and starting my coaching career as a graduate assistant at the Division II level.