Playing on Guts
Simon Pushing Past Injuries to Lift Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Simon is not exactly filling up the stat sheet during his senior season at Ohio State.
Photo by Dan Harker
After five games this season, Simon has just one sack to call his own and he is tied for ninth on the team in tackles with 17, the same amount as safety C.J. Barnett, who missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain.
Simon is tied for the team-lead with 2.5 tackles for loss, but that doesn’t even rank him in the top 35 … of the Big Ten. He has not forced any fumbles or been on the recovering end, either. He has zero interceptions and only five more tackles than Doran Grant, a backup cornerback who has started exactly one game for the Buckeyes this season.
He hasn’t exactly been the disruptive force many expected after hearing about Simon’s exploits this offseason, which included being held out of practice – not to mention the spring game – back in April because, well, he simply didn’t need to be out there.
The Buckeyes certainly need him now, and while the two-time captain hasn’t put up big numbers on the defensive line yet this season, he hasn’t lost the confidence of his head coach.
Photo by Dan Harker
“John Simon, once again played very well,” Urban Meyer said this week, following Ohio State’s 17-16 win over Michigan State in East Lansing.
“He's getting healthy and he graded out 80 percent this week, which is high.”
It wasn’t just Simon. Ohio State’s entire defensive line, primarily led by the four starters – Simon, Hankins, Goebel and Nathan Williams – completely controlled the line of scrimmage against Michigan State’s largely one-dimensional rushing attack.
It’s Hankins, not Simon, who has become the real star on this OSU defensive line under coordinator Luke Fickell and line coach Mike Vrabel, but it wasn’t until after the Cal game – a 35-28 nail-biter in Ohio Stadium two weeks ago – that we learned Simon had been battling through a vicious shoulder injury.
“When you say sore, for most human beings, they're probably laid up in the Ohio State Medical Center,” Meyer said after watching Simon gut it out against the Golden Bears.
“Because that's how tough he is. And he goes so hard.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Maybe too hard at times. Simon doesn’t have a pause or rewind, let alone a stop button. He is high intensity all the time, and even when he had an ankle injury during fall camp, Simon tried to slip his pads on and sneak out to practice against doctors orders.
Now we come to find out on Thursday, during Meyer’s weekly call-in show, that Simon has been battling more than just a shoulder injury. More than an ankle, too. He’s been playing through a strained groin and a dislocated rib, along with the shoulder injury that has probably impacted his effectiveness more than any of the others.
“They kept telling me it would be fine, but it just didn't heal as fast as we hoped,” Meyer said of the shoulder after Simon played a gutsy, though largely ineffective, games against Cal.
“Boy, he just lost it in the locker room, as far as just sharing, opening up his soul for the team. And I've done this a long time, man – mark it down, you can put up a jersey somewhere that says John Simon because that's a grown-a-- man.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Simon is hardly the first player Meyer has referred to as a GAM (grown-a—man), and he won’t be the last. Simon was, however, the first OSU player ever to be referred to as “Tebowish” by Meyer, who went as far as to say that he would name his next son Urban ‘John Simon’ Meyer, or something like that.
It was largely tongue-in-cheek, but that’s how highly Meyer thinks of the fourth-year senior he inherited from former OSU head coach Jim Tressel and the previous coaching staff in Columbus.
“He's elite,” Meyer said back in the spring.
“He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment.”
Simon has it all, and he has certainly earned the respect of his teammates, and that’s without recording a single sack or forcing a single turnover on game day.
“He gives us everything he has each and every week, in practice each and every day,” safety Christian Bryant said.
“He's one of those guys that never stops going.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Even when he’s too hurt to be the kind of player fans expect him to be, or the kind of player he expects himself to be. After all, this is a guy who led the Buckeyes with 7.0 sacks and 16 tackles for loss as a junior last season. When he’s right, he’s one of the most unblockable players in the Big Ten.
“You can't teach a motor, you can't teach intensity,” said Fickell, who named Simon as one of his team captains at the end of last season.
“You'll have a hard time teaching some of those unique things. He has every single one of those.”
That’s why he drew constant double-teams from Miami (Ohio) and UCF in the first two games of the year, but against Cal, when he was playing with a bad shoulder against a quality Pac-12 opponent, Simon was a shadow of his usual self.
He did have a sack – one of six by the Buckeyes’ defense in the game – but it was his only tackle of the day. Afterward, Simon let his teammates know that he was leaving it all out there on the field, for them, because that’s the kind of guy John Simon is.
He’s fiercely competitive, maybe the most guy competitive on the team according to linebacker Ryan Shazier, but he has never once made it about John Simon. It’s always been about Ohio State football, which explains why he’s been out there playing with one good arm on a bad ankle with a dislocated rib and a finicky groin.
“It makes us all look in the mirror and say, 'Are we doing enough for our team?’” Meyer said emphatically.
“Am I doing enough? The coaching staff, are we doing enough? Are we doing as much as he's doing?"
Then he added, “No. We've got to do more.”
Because he knows John Simon always will.
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