Shane Simmons hadn’t entirely given up the idea of some day playing in the NFL, but when you’re living with your parents in Kent and working as a trainer at L.A. Fitness, it does seem a long way from glory.
Then your phone rings, it’s the Seahawks on the line and, well, next thing you know you’re running around the practice field next to Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant and the boys in blue you’ve been watching for years.
And, yeah, life is suddenly very cool.
Nobody at the three-day offseason minicamp underway this week at Seahawks headquarters is more excited than Simmons, 23, a standout linebacker at Kentlake High and Western Washington University who signed as a free-agent hopeful last year with the Oakland Raiders.
But after playing four preseason games with the Raiders — the last coming in Qwest Field against the Seahawks — Simmons was released. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder returned home and worked a construction job in Seattle before signing on as a trainer with the new L.A. Fitness gym just off Highway 167 in Kent.
He admits his thoughts of an NFL future had dwindled over recent months. But with Leroy Hill skipping this week’s camp due to contract negotiations and D.D. Lewis sidelined by injury, the Seahawks are short at linebacker. So they called Simmons on Monday afternoon and asked if he’d be interested in a three-day tryout.
“I said, ‘Of course, when do I need to be there?'” Simmons said. “And here I am.”
Sure, he remains a long shot. Yes, it’s just a trial run. And, no, he hasn’t signed a contract of any kind.
But along with former BYU linebacker Kelly Poppings, he’s getting an extensive tryout this week with a chance to show what he can do.
Simmons’ situation is temporary enough that on the first day of practice Tuesday, his name got ripped off the back of his jersey during a pileup and he remained anonymous the rest of the session.
But his name was back in place Wednesday and so was he, ready to do whatever possible to help the Seahawks and his own cause.
“It’s pretty sweet, seeing my name up on that locker and the helmet in there and the jersey,” Simmons said. “I’ve lived in Kent my whole life. I went to Seahawks games with my grandparents when I was younger and have been following them for a long time. So it’s pretty cool.”
All he’s been told is the team will let him know after camp ends Thursday whether they’re interested in keeping him around further. While most NFL tryouts consist of a 15-20 minute workout in front of coaches and staff, this one is giving Simmons a full opportunity to introduce himself.
He has been with the second unit in drills and seeing considerable action, given the only healthy veteran linebackers in camp are Tatupu, Lance Laury, Will Herring and David Hawthorne.
“It’s difficult to pick up the schemes (that quickly), but football is football,” he said. “Once you get between the white lines, you just run around and get after the pigskin. I’m just doing that the best I can, trying to pick things up and play as much as I can. I’ll try to show as much as I can in three days and we’ll go from there.”
At one point he forced a fumble during Tuesday’s drills, drawing cheers of “Sugar Shane” and the like from his newfound teammates. Just being part of things with Tatupu and the other veterans brings a smile to his face.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “You try not to make too big a deal about it because they’re just normal guys. But it’s crazy seeing them on TV, then all the sudden you’re eating with them at lunch and talking with them in the locker room. It’s cool. They’re all great guys. They’ve been very helpful. It’s been a good situation so far.”
Not so good is the football situation at his alma mater. Western canceled its program last spring, a punch in the gut to Simmons.
“It’s no good,” he said. “It’s a crappy situation for all kinds of people, staff, players, the university.”
Western Washington has produced five athletes who’ve played in the NFL. Punter Michael Koenen has kicked the past four seasons for the Atlanta Falcons. Tight end Ken Sager played three games for the Seahawks in 1987. Safety Erik Totten got in one game for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002.
Two other Western athletes who transferred to bigger schools — wide receiver Dane Looker (Washington) and offensive lineman Erik Norgard (Colorado) — went on to lengthy NFL careers.
But the alumni list is short and with Vikings football now dead in Bellingham, Simmons stands as the last link and legacy remaining.
“I’m proud to have the Western Washington Viking name on me,” he said. “It was a great place to be, a great place to play and a great place to go to school.”
Now he’ll see if there’s anything more to his hopes. The L.A. Fitness folks didn’t mind giving him a couple days off.
“This is how the NFL works,” he said. “You get a phone call and pick up your stuff and head out. Everybody has a dream. And when you get an opportunity to pursue that dream, you take it.”
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