When one first meets Jake Simmons, it’s hard not to think in terms of clichés: small town American quarterback with one heck of a jaw line. However, taking the Rancho Cotate alumni for granted would be a grave mistake, for beneath that first impression lies a man who, despite his young age, manages to take on the qualities of both teacher and student.
Football is the name of the game, and despite Simmons recent recruitment to the SRJC Bear Cubs, the sport hasn’t always been kind.
“When I was 11-years-old I was kind of a bigger kid, so they put me on the older team. I didn’t really know what to do,” Simmons said, reflecting on his first season of football with the Rohnert Park Warriors. “About a month passed of conditioning and me getting beat up by the older kids. That’s when I got diagnosed with type one diabetes.”
The illness came as a shock to Simmons. He took two months off the season that year to get a handle on the disease, but the unpleasant experience of the older age group and the sudden diagnosis soured his opinion towards the game.
“After that I didn’t want another minute of football—never, never again,” Simmons said.
For the next couple years, Simmons kept active with baseball and it wasn’t until his freshman year at Rancho Cotate High School that he thought to give football another try, even then though, it wasn’t his idea. Rather it was a friend, Benfer Hunter, that finally lit the spark.
“Everyday Hunter wanted to talk me into playing football, and I said, ‘No, I’m not playing.’ Then Hunter goes up to the varsity coach and tells him to come up to me because he knows the coach can get into my head,” Simmons said.
That coach was Ed Conroy. With a simple challenge, he convinced Simmons to come out to his first practice. After that Simmons was hooked. He went on to set the Rancho Cotate record for yards passing and touchdowns in a single season and his legacy continues as an example for the newest batch of Cougars.
“In my opinion, he’s probably the greatest quarterback in the history of this school. Maybe not statistically, but he’ll just do everything. I love that kid to death,” said Gehrig Hotaling, the current head coach for the Rancho Cotate Cougars. “Will, leadership, the desire to just run through somebody and get it done. I’ve never seen a quarterback with that strength of vision.”
Vision and leadership are the two adjectives that seem to follow Simmons wherever he goes. After graduation, Humboldt State recruited him and Simmons traveled north to Arcata to don the green and gold of the Lumberjacks. It wasn’t meant to be, however. Less than a month into practice with the new team, Humboldt State announced that it had cancelled its football program.
Simmons was furious. He left Arcata that night and on the way back he called SRJC.
“To do something you love everyday? I think that’s the goal of any person in life,” said Dante DePaola, SRJC’s Defensive Coordinator. “My goal every year is to coach a bunch of great kids — help them grow and figure out some things about themselves and go onto the next level. We don’t want them to stay here forever.”
Simmons hopes to stay in state and transfer eventually to a division one institution like UCLA or Berkeley. For now, though, he’s content with SRJC and his new home with the Bear Cubs.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason—I’m one of those kind of guys. It’s all in my hands to decide what happens with my future,” Simmons said.