In Cordova High School’s opening game against Dora in 2005, Simon racked up more than 100 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown as the team’s second-string running back.
“When we watched film that Saturday, Coach (Scott) Basden kept rewinding that 68-yard touchdown I had. He said, ‘When you get older, there’s going to be a very special thing about you,’” Simon said. “I took that to heart. I worked out harder. I ran harder. Everything I did was harder.”
Simon’s performance several weeks later against Parrish, which included more than 250 yards and five touchdowns, earned him a permanent spot as Cordova’s starting running back.
For the next three seasons, Simon gave the Blue Devil faithful a reason to cheer.
In 2007, he helped lead the team to the 3A state championship. In 2008, his senior season, he accumulated nearly 3,000 rushing yards and was named Back of the Year.
He finished his career at CHS with 8,536 rushing yards and a third place ranking on the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s all-time list.
For Simon, football was about more than trophies. The sport was also his ticket to a college education and a better life for his family.
Simon accepted a scholarship from the University of Mississippi.
In September 2009, Simon got his first chance to show off as a Rebel in a game against South Carolina.
In the third quarter, Simon was filling in for an injured player on a punt return. After the snap, he ran down the field to block his man but was cut off by another Ole Miss player.
While attempting a sudden stop, Simon hyperextended his knee.
“I had done that in high school. Not knowing how bad it was, I tried to stand up and walk. It felt like my knee wasn’t there,” Simon said.
Simon later learned that the only thing holding his knee together was a partially-torn meniscus.
He underwent a total knee replacement and spent the next two years pushing himself as hard as he could to have a chance at playing football again.
Simon’s coach, Houston Nutt, and teammates rallied around him, and he also had the support of family, friends and fans back home in Cordova.
Still, there came a time when Simon was ready to not only give up on football but college as well.
He overcame the urge by thinking about his family, whom he had seen struggle so often throughout his life. He would be the first among them to graduate from college.
“I can’t disappoint. I don’t like to disappoint,” Simon said.
Last year, Simon learned from his doctor that although his knee looked fine, a stretched nerve in his heel had not healed properly.
He was willing to wear a brace and take the risk of breaking his ankle for the opportunity to take the field just one more time.
Simon, then a senior, would have had two years left to play football at Ole Miss thanks to two redshirts he received because of his injury.
However, his recovery coincided with a shake-up in the program, including Nutt’s exit in 2011.
The new coach, Hugh Freeze, was advised by someone on the staff that it wasn’t worth taking a chance on Simon.
Although Simon was understandably upset when he heard what had happened, he tells the story now without a trace of bitterness in his voice.
“It’s been a great ride, and it ended for a purpose. Everything happens for a reason,” Simon said.
Simon graduated from Ole Miss in May with a degree in criminal justice and park and recreation management.
His desire to be a coach led him back to his alma mater. The only position CHS had available at the time was for a special education aide.
Simon has enjoyed working with special needs students so much that he plans to get a degree in the field.
“Each one of our kids is teaching me something different. Everybody else walks around with their head down, but these kids come in smiling every day,” Simon said.
Principal Kathy Vintson said Simon’s influence extends beyond the special education classroom. When Simon’s name was announced at the first pep rally of the season, the crowd erupted in cheers.
“He is an example of how you can be a winner even when your dreams don’t play out,” she said.
Simon has become personally invested in the lives of Cordova’s youth. Most already knew him a champion. Now he is showing them that he cares.
Simon is not expected to join Cordova’s coaching staff until next season.
This year has been spent focusing on his students, being a big brother and mentoring young players in the game of football as well as life.
Simon is still surprised at how star-struck kids seem around him. He tells them that because he got hurt, he has a chance to come back home and coach them.
“When I come to junior high games, they say, ‘Watch me play!’ I tell them, ‘I’m going to watch you, but you better show me something.’ You can tell that they are playing their hearts out just because I’m there. It means so much,” Simon said.