Anthony Simmons first entered the Hall of Champions at Clemson
on the day before a 1994 South Carolina high school championship
game at Memorial Stadium. A wiry linebacker from Spartanburg,
S.C., Simmons walked the Hall's spit-shined wood floors, stared
at the massive trophies honoring the Tigers' 1981
national-championship team, noted Clemson's rich linebacking
tradition and imagined being part of that history.
The next afternoon Simmons had 20 tackles in helping Spartanburg
High to the title. Two months later he signed with the Tigers,
and he has been knocking opponents stiff in Death Valley ever
since. You can look it up in the Hall of Champions.
With 18 tackles in a 29-20 overtime win over Duke last Saturday,
the 6'1", 230-pound Simmons, a junior inside linebacker, is
third on Clemson's career list with 446, including 44 tackles
for a loss in 33 games. He also had two sacks against the Blue
Devils, giving him 14.5 for his career. A first-team All-America
last year, Simmons is one of 10 finalists for the 1997 Butkus
Award, and he is expected to become the first Clemson player to
earn All-ACC honors as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
"Every player wants to be able to say, 'I left my mark here,'"
says Simmons, whose Tigers are fifth in the nation against the
run. "Now I can tell my children and grandchildren, 'Go see for
yourselves what I did.'"
As a freshman in 1995 Simmons earned a starting job after just
five days of practice, thanks to his speed, strength and almost
freakish ability to burst toward the ballcarrier. He finished
the season with 150 tackles, including three earthshaking stops
during a goal line stand against North Carolina State, and
became the first defensive player ever to be named UPI's
national freshman of the year. Even then Simmons was being
favorably compared with Clemson's most celebrated
linebackers--NFL veterans Levon Kirkland and Ed McDaniel, '81
Tigers captain Jeff Davis, and Wyndie Wyndham, who in '50
knocked out three Missouri running backs on consecutive plays.
For his sophomore year Simmons returned to Clemson 15 pounds
heavier and a step faster. He decked himself out in a new, baggy
wardrobe (a good thing, too, since he added another 15 pounds
last summer) and then set the Tigers' record for tackles in a
season (178) en route to being named All-America.
This season Simmons has averaged a tackle every 4.0 snaps. "He's
the greatest pure hitter I've ever seen in college," says Reggie
Herring, the inside linebackers coach for the 6-3 Tigers.
"Against Maryland he hit a guy so hard on the goal line it was
like a cannon had gone off."
After Simmons and the Tigers held Florida State to 31 yards
rushing on Sept. 20--the Seminoles' lowest output in eight
years--Bobby Bowden hoped out loud that Simmons would leave
school early for the NFL. The Seminoles' coach will very likely
get his wish this spring, as Simmons has already accomplished
what he set out to do at Clemson. "When Anthony arrived, he
wanted to be like the great linebackers who came before him,"
says Tigers coach Tommy West. "Now our younger linebackers want
to be like Anthony Simmons." --DAVID FLEMING
COLOR PHOTO: BOB DONNAN [Anthony Simmons in game]