The most important calls Justin Simmons gets these days always come from one of two people: his agent and his fiancée.
They both know how important the next month of Simmons’s life will be.
If Landon Betsworth’s name pops up on Simmons’s screen, it’s because yet another team wants to meet with Simmons after his eye-opening performance at the NFL Combine last month. It’s because the agent wants to let Simmons know how much he’s heating up on draft boards. It’s to let him know that when the draft begins on April 28, Simmons will have the attention of plenty of teams.
If a call from Taryn Richard comes in, it’s to let Simmons know the seating arrangement is set. The colors are all picked out — black and gray. To let him know everything is in place for their wedding on April 1.
“I’m blessed,” Simmons said. “As far as wedding prep goes, my fiancée has done a great job handling all that.”
These days, Simmons is racing against the calendar as much as he is the stopwatch.
If he isn’t in New York for meetings, he’s back home in Florida trying to catch what little downtime he can grab. One day, he’s in Boston to train. Another, he’s in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. The wake-up calls are early. The meetings and preparation run late.
“He’s a busy man right now,” Betsworth said. “And he’ll get busier.”
Simmons has meetings lined up with six teams, plus dinners and film sessions with a couple of others. He also had another chance to impress NFL scouts at his pro day on Wednesday.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Simmons said. “You definitely get a little bit of a taste of what it’s like to be a pro traveling from state to state, waking up early, going to sleep late. It’s been pretty hectic. It’s not something that you’re totally used to. In the same breath, though, it’s been a cool experience.”
But for as busy as the last few weeks have been, the next few weeks will be life-changing.
Simmons already was on the NFL’s radar after making 67 tackles and picking off five passes, earning second-team all-ACC honors for a Boston College defense that was among the best in the country.
But he turned heads when he turned the combine into his own Olympics. Simmons finished in the top five in his position group in five of the seven field events and was the overall winner in two of the most critical — the 20-yard shuttle (3.85 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (10.84 seconds). He was second overall in the three-cone drill (6.58 seconds).
From the time he started training in the offseason, Simmons’s mantra has been, “Put the league on notice.” When he got back from Indianapolis, he realized he’d done just that.
“Pretty much the day I got back from the combine was when the phone started ringing for setting up workouts,” Betsworth said.
But for Simmons, the work started as soon as BC’s season ended, which was much earlier than he expected. The Eagles struggled to a 3-9 record that ended with eight straight losses. As difficult as it was, Simmons managed to grow from it. It started with a transition from cornerback to safety about which Simmons was initially skittish.
“At first I thought it was going to hurt, but as the season went on and I got more reps at it and I became better at it, I realized this could help show my versatility, show I’m flexible, I can move around the field and still make plays,” he said.
The mental maturation came when he started to become simpatico with then-defensive coordinator Don Brown. They called the defensive meeting room “The Bunker,” and the conversations and film study that took place made Simmons sharper.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “Coach Brown got there going into my sophomore year so it took me a whole year and a half to get the lingo and understand his mind-set to attacking the game.
In “The Bunker,” they would break down tape and start seeing which defensive schemes would work and not work against an opponent. “Those conversations with Coach Brown definitely helped my game to bring it to the next level,” said Simmons.
But while other schools were in bowl season, Simmons used the month to recharge before he started training for the combine.
“I guess you can kind of say it was a blessing in disguise because it gave me the opportunity to rest my body in order to be at maximum potential while I’m training,” he said. “I had the whole month of December just completely off, just making sure that I got in the training room in school, got extra treatment, extra rest. Just making sure that I could do whatever I could so that by the time training came around in February, I’d be full-go.”
Simmons started working out in January in Florida at Fit Speed Athletic Performance, a facility owned by Jets receiver Brandon Marshall and partner Matt Gates. Simmons was surrounded by prospects such as Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
“He’s already a phenomenal athlete,” Betsworth said. “He came in more ready than any player in that facility. Once he was at training, he’s pushing himself every day. The trainers told me numerous times that he’s just a beast.”
Preparation was a given. Complaints were out of the question. His diet was strict and he kept himself within it.
“He definitely put the work in,” Betsworth said.
When he got to the combine, Simmons was ready. At one point, as he was stretching, he glanced to the side and saw Deion Sanders. The Hall of Fame cornerback was weighing in on this year’s crop of defensive backs.
“That was just the icing on the cake,” Simmons said. “That was the fun part. When you’re out there stretching and you’re warming up and you see ‘Prime Time’ over to the side wearing his hoodie with the ‘21’ on it and talking about the upcoming defensive back class, that’s what it was all about.”
The things that can make the combine a grind — from the medical tests to the team evaluations — felt like a breeze.
“As stressful and as hectic as it was, that was the point, to see how you handle being a professional, handling your business,” Simmons said.
How the next month plays out is partly out of Simmons’s hands, but he’s comfortable knowing he’s done everything in his power to prepare.
“I’m nervous, but I’m a good nervous, I guess,” he said.
The one thing he can control will be easy. Just don’t forget his lines at the altar.