Georgia Tech defensive end Antonio Simmons revealed a goal Tuesday that speaks to his aspirations for his senior season.
“So, my first goal, I just want to be ACC defensive player of the year,” Simmons said.
It might be dismissed as big talk from a defensive end who had one sack last season and wasn’t even a starter. It is ambitious, certainly. But whether he accomplishes it, the goal is a recognition of Simmons’ capacity to be a game-changing force for the Yellow Jackets going into the 2017 season.
As a pass-rush specialist last season, one sack clearly was not enough. But he used his speed to amass 12 quarterback hurries, second most in the ACC, which is an indication of his potential to be a disruptive edge rusher.
“I’ve been thinking about it myself, just, like, I just want to do something great with my last year so everybody can remember me, because I know my first years here haven’t been as I want,” he said.
Over the summer, at the encouragement of defensive-line coach Mike Pelton, Simmons did a lot of stretching to loosen his hips, he said, “because my hips were terrible.” He did drills with agility hoops, which are hoops typically eight or 12 feet in diameter that players run around to develop their speed turning corners, as Simmons might while trying to beat an offensive tackle to the quarterback.
Simmons was in particular trying to improve his “bend,” or his ability to speed around the edge of the pocket by leaning into the offensive tackle. Former Tech All-American Jeremiah Attaochu was particularly adept at this technique.
Simmons also invested himself in the summer workout program led by strength-and-conditioning coach John Sisk.
“I actually got in great shape,” Simmons said. “This is the best shape I’ve been in since I’ve been playing football. I got leaner, I got bigger and I trained the hoops a lot and stretched.”
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall noticed the effort.
“He’s just been working really hard this offseason, pushing everybody to do more than just average,” Marshall said.
Tech has struggled to impose a consistent pass rush on opponents since Attaochu’s All-America season in 2013. Last season, the Jackets were 114th nationally in sacks per game at 1.39 per game.
If Simmons and fellow ends KeShun Freeman and Anree Saint-Amour can bring down or at least hurry quarterbacks on a regular basis, they would be adding another ingredient to a team that appears to have a potent run game and strong secondary.
“Antonio has to go out there, and he has to be the one,” Pelton said. “If he’s going to be the starter, he has to be the one to start it off for us. So that’s something new for him.”
Simmons welcomes the responsibility.
“I actually love it, because I feel like, as a starter and getting more playing time, I can be more productive than I have been in the past couple years,” Simmons said. “So I love it. I’m embracing the role and the leadership role. I love everything that comes with it.”