Going into the 2000 season opener against Bucknell, senior tailback Evan Simmons was without a single carry for his career. As a sophomore he had gotten on the field in six games on special teams. Yet, last year, he won the starting position over classmate Justin Dunleavy, who had already established himself as an integral part of the offense the year before.
From out of nowhere, Simmons became the highlight of an otherwise nonexistent running attack. Starting with a modest 31 yards on 10 carries at Bucknell, he broke out against Yale, rushing 117 yards en route to accumulating a season total of 611. He ranked fifth among Ivy rushers even though he was on the worst rushing team in the league bar none.
According to both Pendergast and the senior himself, last season’s Simmons is only a glimpse of what to expect from the running back’s final year on East Hill.
“One of the first things that [Pendergast] told me was ‘you’re at least going to be a 1,000-yard rusher this year,'” Simmons recalled.
And he enters the 2001 campaign with that number as a looming benchmark.
The accolades Pendergast bestows on Simmons and the goals that have been set for him are indicative of the team’s new attitude: that the backfield must assume a heightened role in the Red’s gameplan. All those responsibilities, in turn, fall on Simmons’ broad shoulders which he accepts, gladly.
“Pressure’s good because it’s going to make me step up to that next level,” he stated. “And if I don’t achieve that, it’s going to make me work that much harder because I know that it’s not just me that wants me to do it. I have a team behind me — a whole coaching staff.”
Growing up near Syracuse, N.Y., Simmons was exposed to football early in life. He usually placed himself as a running back, being able to outrun most of his peers. Ironically, local coaches saw Simmons’ talents on the gridiron and translated them to the lacrosse field.
And, hence, he found an natural skill for lacrosse. Eventually the sport came to dominate Simmons’ athletic career, surpassing football.
“I was looking for a college that was D-I in lacrosse and D-III in football,” he said, listing Hofstra and John’s Hopkins as possible collegiate destinations.
He changed his mind after an extremely successful senior football campaign that landed him on his all-league first team, the All-Central New York second team and all-state third team.
“After the success I had my senior year, I decided that football would be really hard to let go of since I had been doing it longer,” Simmons said.
Despite realizing his fervor for football, Cornell never presented itself as an option to Simmons.
“I was pretty intent on not going to Cornell,” said the son of two Cornell graduates.
He had a change of heart after speaking with defensive line coach Pete DeStefano, who at the time was serving under former head coach Jim Hoffer. Staying close to home also appealed to the deciding senior since he did not want to be too far from his eight-year-old brother.
Thus the lacrosse player committed himself to a football career and headed out to the school he once dreaded, Cornell, where his parents and brother could watch him play.
The first two years were tumultuous as Hoffer handed the program over to Pete Mangurian.
“My freshman and sophomore years, I really didn’t get along with the staff too much,” he said. “I had my own ideas on how things should work.”
Now Simmons is in a situation that he has not occupied before — a returning starter. He has a program relying on him.
Simmons only validates the optimism:
“Personally, I thought that last year was kind of preview of what’s to come this year — in what’s expected of the team and in myself.”
Archived article by Amanda Angel