Blue Devil lineman Perry Simmons once bled State red

Nov. 06, 2013 @ 10:57 PM

Perry Simmons grew up around football, drawing on the coaches’ white erase boards and filling up Gatorade cups as a kid.

He and the other coaches’ kids would play while their fathers were running practices and Simmons imagined being on the college practice field himself one day.

“Amazing that it came true,” Simmons said. “Not at N.C. State’s field, but still it’s awesome.”

Yes, the practice facility that Simmons played in as a kid was in Raleigh, where his father, Brette Simmons, was an N.C. State assistant coach from 1987-99.

On Saturday, Perry Simmons, playing right tackle for Duke, will line up for the first time against the Wolfpack when the Blue Devils play N.C. State at Wallace Wade Stadium.

A two-time all-Southern Conference tight end as a player at Furman, Brette Simmons left the coaching profession when N.C. State fired Mike O’Cain and his coaching staff following the 1999 season. Perry Simmons was nine years old at the time. Fast forward eight years to Raleigh’s Sanderson High School, where Perry Simmons played basketball and football. Matt Luke, Duke’s offensive line coach at the time, came to visit Simmons, who half-chuckles at the memory now because he weighed just 225 pounds.

“I was kind of skinny in high school,” he said.

That didn’t stop Luke from looking at Simmons and seeing potential.

“He had a great frame, at 6-4 and around 235 pounds,” said Luke, who left Duke following the 2011 season to become Mississippi’s offensive line coach. “That was maybe the only holdup. Can he get big enough?”

That summer, Brette Simmons and Perry took off on a trip that would chart Perry’s future. A former recruiting coordinator for the Wolfpack, Brette Simmons told Perry how important it was for him to attend camps at different colleges to get attention.

So off they went around Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina hitting seven or eight schools.

“We spent that summer going from camp to camp,” Perry Simmons said.

His time at Duke’s camp sent a message that Luke and Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe couldn’t ignore.

“You looked a how hard he was working and how much passion he had,” Luke said. “He was so intense and so focused. He’s exactly what you want when you are trying to build a program.”

Luke’s persistence on the recruiting trail made an equally solid impression on Simmons, who chose to join a Duke program that hadn’t had a winning record since 1994.

As for his previous ties to the Wolfpack, well, they had to drop by the wayside.

“I definitely thought about it, especially because I knew I wanted to go into engineering,” Simmons said. “But with the coaching staff here and the new commitment to football, Duke really recruited me hard. This was the right place for sure.”

He’s proven to be as solid as any building block Duke could have put in place.

He redshirted in 2009 to add much-needed weight to his body. By 2010, he was starting as a redshirt freshman.

Since starting in Duke’s season-opening game against Elon on Sept. 4, 2010, Simmons has never left the starting lineup. He’s carrying a streak of 45 consecutive starts, most in the ACC, into Saturday’s game with N.C. State, having played 3,378 career snaps for the Blue Devils.

If that’s not enough, he’s also carrying a 3.832 GPA as a civil engineering major which is why he was named a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete Award winner last week.

“Perry came to us with a work ethic that is special,” said Cutcliffe, giving credit to Brette Simmons and his wife, Renee. “Perry always had a plan. Everybody has goals. Perry has a plan. He’s an engineer. He engineered his plan.”

For the last three seasons, Laken Tomlinson has lined up next to Simmons on the right side of Duke’s offensive line. Tomlinson, Duke’s right guard, has started 33 consecutive games and he marvels at Simmons’ consistency in practices and games.

“Since I’ve been starting, he is the only player I’ve played next to,” Tomlinson said. “It’s been a wonderful experience. He’s definitely someone to look up to, definitely a leader along the offensive line. He is the kind of guy that leads by example. He would go out there and get it right every day. It’s been an honor to play next to him.”

The closest Simmons came to missing a game was last season when he suffered a sprained ankle in a loss to Clemson. Luckily, Duke had a bye week up next and that gave him time to heal.

Now, he carries his streak and reliable solid play into a game against N.C. State, the school that employed his father for so many football seasons.

Brette Simmons, who now works at Raleigh’s North Ridge Country Club, had time to spend with his family once his coaching career ended.

Perry Simmons said that played a major factor in his life.

“It was so beneficial to me,” Perry Simmons said. “One thing, looking back, was he never pushed me to play football. He never pushed me to follow in his footsteps. But I wanted to. I always wanted to. He was always there, when I thought I was going to be a star receiver, to go out there and throw the football with me. As time went on and I realized I was going to be more of a lineman, he would go out there and work with me and give me pointers. Having that resource right in my own house was great for me.”

Now Duke, not N.C. State, is reaping the benefits.