At Patriot League Media Day, the members of the media and athletic departments usually stick around after the event and take the opportunity to network and play a little golf. You can find out quite a bit about a person when you play 18 holes with them, and this year one of the members of my foursome was none other than WR Pat Simonds, who made the trek to Hamilton.
Simonds at first tried to downplay his ability on the links, claiming that he wasn't that good a golfer. But that fib was rapidly was exposed when he pulled out a large metal wood and proceeded to drill a picture-perfect drive that I could only dream of producing.
It wasn't at that moment that I thought Simonds could have a future as an NFL player or draft pick. I had come to that conclusion long ago. But FCS writer extraordinaire Dave Coulson, another member of our foursome, did mention that "you could always join Colgate's golf team". If things break just the right way this weekend, Simonds won't need to worry too much about brushing up on his golf game. (more)
I've been looking over Patriot League recruiting classes for some time, and I'm frequently wrong about how good players are going to be. But I did make one prediction going into the 2006 season that ended up being pretty much on the money: "The best player in [Colgate's] class isn't a transfer or lineman, but 6'6 WR Patrick Simonds out of Sidney, NY. Simonds played on the NY Class C Champions and was a dominating receiver - there's every indication he can be dominating at the Patriot League level, too."
(That same post also did say some nice stuff about QB John Skelton too, incidentally, predicting big things for him.)
Simonds' impact as a receiver started to be felt his sophomore year, when he started his first game against Albany as a possession receiver. In the 13-11 victory, his byline - 3 catches for 48 yards, including a 33 yard catch - wouldn't ordinarily raise any eyebrows, until you realize that Simonds' three receptions represented half of the completions from QBs Anthony Fucillo and Alex Relph combined.
By his third game against Dartmouth, he had proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a gamer. Trailing the Big Green 28-13 after three quarters, Simonds' late-game heroics - his first TD, a 17 yard strike that cut the deficit to 8, and a crucial 2-point conversion after a 33 yard run by RB Jordan Scott that tied the game - allowed Colgate to win in overtime 31-28, and quite possibly established him as the No. 1 receiver for the run-happy Raiders.
Make no mistake, Scott was the engine that made Colgate go in 2007, but already Simonds was proving if you just stuffed eight men in the box, the 6'6 receiver would more often than not make you cry. By the time Lehigh played Colgate, he had gotten my attention, though Lehigh's season at that point had already been torn apart at the seams and were basically playing for pride at that point. Simonds was definitely a guy to watch, though, due to his size and his great football sense on the field - he had recovered a muffed onsides kick attempt by Lafayette the previous week for a touchdown in their 36-27 win over the Leopards. On Lehigh's turn, Sedale Threatt did manage to start the game with a great drive to jump to a 7-0 lead, and the emerging Lehigh defense would ultimately limit Scott to 114 yards, but key turnovers, sloppy Lehigh play and a 34 yard TD pass to Simonds would contribute to a 21-7 win for the Raiders, then very much in playoff contention. (Simonds also quietly gained a spare thought that he could continue to be a Mountain Hawk-killer in the years to come.)
The 6' 6 receiver from Sidney ended his sophomore year with 649 yards receiving and 5 TDs. But in a way his fine sophomore season was overshadowed by Scott's running, which was Colgate's primary weapon on offense. Any talk of Colgate's offense tended to talk of Scott's dominance and whether his skills would translate to the NFL. Simonds' sure hands and his abilities to out-reach and out-muscle smaller defensive backs? Not so much.
The 2008 season began again with talk of Scott's ability to break Patriot League records, while whispers that Colgate stole a great potential player in Nate Eachus, ruled the day. More quietly, though, Simonds formally went from the No. 2 receiver in Colgate's run-oriented offense to the No. 1 receiver. And 2007's muddle at quarterback would ultimately be resolved in 2008 with the emergence of QB Greg Sullivan as the starter. Sullivan, an extremely mobile quarterback, gave Colgate a crucial second dimension running the ball while also having a very underrated arm as well.
Simonds quite rapidly became Sullivan's favorite target - because the Raiders' early 2008 schedule was brutal and Sullivan would need everything he could get from him. Colgate would give up 42 points to Furman and Stony Brook, and very nearly lost to Coastal Carolina after a miracle off a muffed field goal attempt became a game-winning TD pass in a 23-19 shocker over the Chanticleers. Over four games, Simonds was a workhorse with 25 receptions for 350 yards and 2 TDs - and lest anyone think he didn't have any breakaway speed, he had a 67 yard TD pass against Stony Brook.
There were two constants about Colgate's offense this time: Scott's 100 yard rushing games (save against Stony Brook, where Scott sat out), and Simonds' steady production. But it would be Scott's ankle injury against Cornell that would really propel Sullivan to a different level offensively. While Eachus would fill in admirably for Scott in his absence, Sullivan's rushing ability was as important as Eachus' bruising running underneath.
Unlike 2007, the Colgate/Lehigh clash in 2008 had plenty of postseason implications for both teams. "More often than not the target is to 6'6 junior WR Pat Simonds,", I wrote before the game, "who has 812 yards receiving and 3 TDs to lead the Raiders. While generally used as a counterpoint to defenses overemphasizing the run, he has also been a go-to guy in key late-game situations as well. He certainly has the tools to break your heart in a close game, especially deceptive speed."
If Simonds wasn't acknowledged as a Mountain Hawk-killer before that game, he had to be after their thrilling 34-33 win in Bethlehem. Down by two scores, "Sullivan threw a ball up for grabs in the end zone between two defenders, and 6'6 WR Pat Simonds found a way to come down with the ball in a play where it looked like senior DB Quadir Carter may have come down with the ball at the same time," I wrote. Even more importantly, though, would be the inside slant that Sullivan would complete to Simonds late in the 4th quarter on a 3rd-and-5 play for Simonds' final touchdown on the afternoon. That play would give Simonds not only a school record for touchdown receptions in a game, it would them a one-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
In the post game press conference, I asked coach Biddle if that slant pattern was a play that was drawn up on the sidelines. "It wasn't," he said, mentioning that Sullivan and Simonds saw a matchup they liked so changed the play in order to go for the touchdown. Simonds' 7 reception, 148 yard, 3 TD day broke Lehigh fans' hearts, but none more than that fateful decision to switch the play.
After Lehigh came Holy Cross at home, giving the Raiders a chance at an undefeated record in Patriot League play, a Patriot League championship, and a shot at the FCS playoffs. Playing prototypical Colgate football, the Raiders won a thrilling 28-27 game that featured the three-headed rushing monster of Greg Sullivan, Jordan Scott and Nate Eachus, but also two touchdowns to Simonds, including a 50 yard TD strike to tie the game early and a 10 yard TD pass from Sullivan after a clock-chewing 10 minute drive to start the third quarter.
Simonds would then join his Raider teammates to face Villanova in the first round of the playoffs, where the wheels would come off the Raider offense in a 55-28 whitewash. Simonds did catch 6 balls for 82 yards and a late TD, but a key fumble would allow Villanova to strike early and make the game a foregone conclusion well before his touchdown catch. Still, his junior season was one to remember by any stretch with 1,136 yards and 9 TDs, and while most folks still focused on Colgate's running game, Simonds was a huge part of Colgate's offense that could not be ignored. NFL folks were starting to notice, too.
What really stood out from Simonds was that he was a rare combination of speed, size, and strength at the receiver position. In addition, he really stood out in terms of body positioning as well - a large target, while not really giving the football anywhere else to go but his chest. It wasn't hard to see that his combination of skills was a nightmare for defensive coordinators to plan for.
And Colgate, unsurprisingly, jumped out to an early 7-0 record in his senior season in 2009, playing a schedule that frankly wasn't very strong despite a 23-13 win over future Big South champions Stony Brook. In those seven games, he got 2 100-yard games, 601 total yards receiving, and 7 TDs. Three of those games Simonds had more than six receptions. He was shooting up draft boards: NFL Draft Scout.com was rating him the 25th best wideout prospect in the NFL draft, and plenty of NFL scouts were standing up and taking notice.
Colgate would falter, though, against Dominc Randolph and the offensive machine that was Holy Cross. It wouldn't be Simonds fault that they would fall 42-28, as his 5 reception, 70 yard, 1 TD performance was very much in line of his yearly production totals. But it would make for a very angry Colgate team that would be hosting Lehigh the following week in what was a do-or-die game for both teams. Simonds' book had changed precious little during his collegiate career - he had the ability to kill you constantly, but he wasn't the primary threat. He had deceptive speed, but he primarily was a possession receiver. But you had to account for him at all times - I implored the Lehigh defense to "take him away as a primary receiving option" in my keys to the game. (Easier said than done, I understand.)
Looking back, it's amazing how many times Sullivan counted on Simonds to get a big score to get them out of a hole. Against Lehigh, Simonds' second three-TD game cemented his reputation as a Mountain Hawk killer and their 27-20 win kept them in the playoff hunt and all but eliminated the Mountain Hawks. Of his 5 reception, 85 yard, 3 TD performance - his only two 3 TD reception games would come in big games versus Lehigh - “That was a great play there by Simonds,” Coen said after the game.“Those two (Sullivan and Simonds) connecting for three touchdowns was huge.”
Colgate's season, though, would not end with a championship. After a wild 56-49 loss to Lafayette, where the spotlight would shine on Lafayette QB Rob Curley's incredible 7 TD performance and Eachus' 44 carries and 5 TDs. Lost in the shuffle was a pretty 14 yard TD pass to Simonds where he showcased again his suprisingly nimble feet, tip-toeing inbounds to get a 7-0 lead.
All Colgate could do now is beat Bucknell - and hope that with an 8-3 record (and a loss by Lafayette to Lehigh) that enough might happen to allow the Raiders to get an unlikely at-large bid to the playoffs. In what was a fitting senior send-off for Simonds, he would get 9 receptions for 167 yards and 2 TDs in the Raiders' 29-14 win over Bucknell. They got their win; they got the miracle upset of Lafayette by Lehigh - but it wasn't enough to get them into the playoffs. Simonds would have to settle for a fantastic career at Colgate with 66 receptions, 1,012 yards receiving, and 14 TDs his senior year.
Simonds, though, wasn't done. He had been impressive enough to get an invite to the East-West Shrine game, where it could either help or hurt him going into the NFL draft.
The Shrine game, by all accounts, didn't end up helping Simonds all that much. Possibly due to the fact that the "quarterback play wasn't the best", or that his workouts failed to impress some of the hyper-sensitive media, he didn't have a breakout performance there. "The 6-6, 229-pound receiver had a tough week, dropping passes and failing to prove himself quick enough to separate from NFL defensive backs," NFL Draft Scout said. "His feet can be quicker than you'd think for his size, as Wednesday he ran a nice intermediate comeback route - but he wound up dropping the low throw because he has a tough time getting down due to his height."
Reaching down for underthrown balls was never going to be Simonds' forte, but I fail to see that as a significant negative for an NFL team. Still, some found plenty that they like. " I like the way he would slide and go low for a pass if he needed to, in addition to his natural skill as a “jump ball” receiver," NFL Draft Guys said. "Simonds also seemed adept at finding the soft spot in the zone. He would sit down on his route and float away from coverage to give his quarterback a larger throwing window."
The NFL draftnik book on Simonds, though, seems pretty set. "Simonds has the ideal physical tools (6’5 3/8, 227) and uses his body well to shield defenders," NFL Draft Bible says. "He also has great hands and runs good routes. His speed does need work, reportedly 4.57, and will have to become more consistent as a blocker. If he can drop .10 off his 40 time he could be a real sleeper to go in the mid rounds because of his physical tools and production alone. Simonds has a 36-inch vertical, 488 squat, and is the most physically ready player they have had for the NFL."
While I don't disagree from this sentiment, Simonds' strength, to me, was never combine times. Simonds always had sneaky speed that would only be showcased in special spots - when they needed a big play, which was generally only once a game. And if you see in this limited YouTube video I have, Simonds' body positioning and his ability to reach up and get a big reception made him invaluable to the Raiders, and they seem like skills that could easily translate to the next level.
It didn't surprise me that it combine times would keep him from being a mid-round guy and would instead make him a late-round/priority free agent possibility. Still, while he may never be able to run a 4.35 40 yard dash, his physical abilities to me seem more than enough for an NFL team to use a draft pick on him since he offers everything you'd ever want physically as a possession receiver - and it's not a question of raw material, either, as he's looks like a guy who could step in right away and produce.
To this somewhat biased reporter, he could be a Torrance Small-like possession receiver - only taller - and as a Lehigh fan I'm relieved to finally see the back of him. That should say plenty of his NFL draft prospects.