SE: Simoneau Receives Ultimate Honor

Mark Simoneau helped K-State to three 11-win seasons, four bowl games and two Big 12 North titles from 1996-99.

May 27, 2012

This feature appeared in the Sunday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.

By Mark Janssen

Mark Simoneau’s advice to youngsters with dreams of being… well, a Mark Simoneau: Don't waste a day.  Each day is critical to have success and to get to where you want to go.
Where that philosophy has sent the former Kansas State linebacker is into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame.
“The recognition is hard to put into words,” said Simoneau of his recent honor that will include an official induction on Dec. 4 in New York City.  “It’s exciting for me and my family, but I hope also exciting for K-State and my hometown (Smith Center).  It was an exciting time that was very unexpected.  I so appreciated just being nominated.  I had no expectations after that.”
Simoneau said he received word of the honor from a box that arrived in the mail at his Overland Park, Kan., home.
“It said National Football something, so I just thought it was something from the NFL,” said Simoneau. “But inside was a football with my name on it and a note saying I was being inducted.  I was shocked.”
There are plenty of reasons for Simoneau’s induction starting with leading the Wildcats to a 42-7 record between 1996 and 1999, which included three 11-win seasons.  He led the ‘Cats to four bowl games and two Big 12 North titles, plus holds the school record of 251 solo tackles, and is third in total tackles with 400, tackles for a loss with 52 and forced fumbles with eight.
“I think playing four years had a lot to do with it and being in front of the media for a long period of time,” said Simoneau on what elevated him to the most elite of honors.  “What I did on the field, plus the Butkus recognition (a three-time candidate) and being an All-American (twice) all tied things together.”
Not bad for a young product from Smith Center, Kan., who grew up in the shadows of his brothers, Tim and Jeff, while starting his career in a Huffy uniform, plastic helmet and a t-shirt pulled over miniature shoulder pads.
It was a time when, “I’m sure we didn’t tackle properly, but it was just trying to get the guy down on the ground.”

Through the years, few got people to the ground better than Simoneau.
K-State was the only school to offer the prep runningback/linebacker a scholarship.  A dasher, by the way, who totaled 2,252 yards, averaging better than 10 yards per tote.  Demonstrating his dedication and work ethic, the weight room, he squatted 585 pounds and benched 330.
“I never had anyone knocking at my door other than K-State,” said Simoneau.  “I never attended camps, but my brother (Jeff) had played there in 1992, so I was familiar with the program and had a good feeling about it.”
Simoneau immediately recognized the size and speed difference, but following Bill Snyder’s theme of day-by-day, he saw his game get better to the point he said, “I can do this.”
While there was a debate as whether to play as a true freshman, a bout of mononucleosis made that decision easy, giving Simoneau another year to mature into the program.
In 1996, Simoneau was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, followed by All-Big 12 First Team honors in 1997, 1998 and 1999 when he was also the Defensive Player of the Year in his senior season.
“When you’re an athlete trying to get better it becomes a gradual process over time.  When that process is going on, success really doesn’t become a surprise,” said Simoneau, who calls the 40-30 victory over Nebraska in 1998, and the 35-18 upset of Syracuse in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl as his biggest personal team wins.  “There have been times I’ve wondered if I would have missed several days of trying to get better, what it might have met to my career.  You just have to take advantage of every day to better yourself.”
Now two years removed from an 11-year career in the NFL that included 525 career tackles in 124 games with the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, Simoneau says of his recent reflections,  “My college career and years in the NFL… those are things I never dreamed would happen.  Even at a young age, my thoughts were only of that next step, whatever that was.  But now that it’s over, sure, with time to reflect you just say, ‘Wow … what a dream.’ ”
First with legendary head coach Roger Barta at Smith Center High where he was also a Class 3A state shot put and 100-meter champion, and then Bill Snyder at K-State, Simoneau said, “It’s all been about consistency and effort.  More than teaching anything at a high level, it was teaching gradual improvement and consistency over a long period of time.  That’s what allows you to go things down the road.”
Like Barta prepared Simoneau for K-State, it was Snyder who prepped the 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker for being a third-round draft choice by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, and an 11-year career that followed until back and tricep injuries ended his career in 2010.
With his own personal commitment to Snyder, Simoneau said, “He was one of those guys you respected so much because he expected so much out of you.  You wanted to play as flawless as possible for him. You did that by becoming a little bit better each day with your fundamentals and your focus on the game.”
Simoneau added, “It all goes back to the amount of work coach demanded and the discipline in the program.  He knew how to prepare you to play.  You prepared for every team, good and bad, the same way.  A lot of guys didn’t have that background of already knowing how to compete out of college.”
Today, Simoneau, a member of the Kansas State Ring of Honor and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, carries that same teaching philosophy at Simoneau Sports Performance in Overland Park where his mission statement includes maximizing the potential of each athlete, achieving measurable results in a competitive environment, teaching proper technique and being a positive influence in an athlete’s life.
“To see a kid start to see the value of those things is pretty exciting,” said Simoneau.  “When you see them realize how their hard work is paying off is pretty exciting.”
Just as it was for Simoneau at Smith Center under coach Barta, and then K-State under Snyder that has led him to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“As a small town kid from Smith Center, Kansas, I never could have dreamed of such an honor, but it shows that with hard work anything is possible.”
TRIVIA TIME: Only 914 players and 197 coaches have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame from the nearly 4.86 million who have played/coached the game over the last 143 years.  In other words, only two one-hundredths of one percent (.0002) of the individuals who have played the game have earned a place in the Hall of Fame.
TRIVIA TIME II: Also in the Hall from K-State are linebacker Gary Spani as a player, and Pappy Waldorf and Charles Bachman as coaches.