Former linebacker Antjuan Simmons had a very successful career as a player for Michigan State football. The four-year letterwinner finished his career ranked 26th in school history with 26 tackles for loss and 44th with 231 tackles.
Now, just three years later, Simmons is back with the program. But this time, his role has changed drastically.
“I am looking at the game, our team, our program, everything from a completely different perspective,” Simmons said on his role as a graduate assistant. “When I was here, from a players perspective, waking up to provide my values with working out or playing on the field, keeping the team together. Versus now, it's working with coach (Scottie) Hazelton to working with coach (Ross) Els or coach (Jim) Salgado — just whoever needs help or assistance, all players and anything like that.”
Straight after college, Simmons declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, but never heard his name called. From there, he decided to go back to where it all started. After the draft, he decided to join the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School coaching staff, the place where he became a top-300 recruit in the country which got him noticed by MSU.
Simmons was originally recruited by former head coach Mark Dantonio, but stuck around with current head coach Mel Tucker for his first year during Simmons' final season. While he has already seen massive change as a player and has only been gone a short while, he said there is something even more different about how the program operates now.
“Everything matters,” Simmons said. “From the time they walk through the building to the time where they leave, it’s expectations. From the way they put their helmet down to the way they put their hands down, the way they take the field, the way they get on the field, everything is being looked at.”
The players who first arrived in 2020 used to know Simmons as a player. Now, with three seasons of experience under their belt, they have welcomed him back with open arms as their mentor. Simmons said that while it is different having his former teammates as his students, it isn’t that strange all in all.
“I was their teammate at one point and now I am their coach,” Simmons said. “But the good thing was a lot of these guys, when they came in, they were really young on my way out; they were either freshmen or early enrollees. Now at that time, I was an older guy that was pretty rooted into the program so they kind of looked up to me at that time, and hopefully I'm doing enough for them to have to continue to look up to me as someone who they can trust.”
While Simmons might have more expertise in everything that goes into being a linebacker, his role now expands to the positions that surround the linebackers as well. Younger members of the secondary, like sophomore defensive backs Dillon Tatum and Jaden Mangham, have seen his work firsthand in the early stages of spring ball, noting that communication has been a large foundation of his teachings.
“He's a Spartan dog and I grew up watching him play so I know he knows a lot,” Tatum said. “He's coming around all across the defense just making sure if guys have any questions we can ask him. So, as he learns more about the defense, and we're going to be more on the same page just like with a lot of what a linebacker does and how that’s gonna affect me as a corner.”
While Simmons has been helping Tatum learn more about what goes through a linebacker’s head, Simmons has also been helping Mangham and the safeties get more in touch with Tatum and the other corners.
“Every time we're out there, he always makes sure that I talk to the corners,” Mangham said. “He always makes that a big emphasis. He makes sure I talk to him before and during the play because you never know what happens, what type of movements go on. So he always asks what we're playing and what we're doing, and that I communicate, so that's definitely something that I appreciate.”
Fans will get to see Simmons' work in action at Spartan Stadium as he will spend his first time on the Michigan State sideline on April 15th for the team’s 15th and final spring practice.