ATHENS — When Tyler Simmons was just a sophomore in high school, a relative unknown on the football recruiting trail, he ran a strong race at the Georgia state track and field meet. A few people noticed, including the football coach wearing an Alabama logo, who took a video of Simmons’ race.
A year later, at the same track meet, the same coach approached Simmons and this time showed the video he had taken the previous year.
“This is how much I believed in you,” Kirby Smart, that Alabama assistant coach, told Tyler Simmons, according to the recollection of Simmons’ father Shon. “I’ve been wanting you since Day 1.”
Smart and Simmons were tied together often during the next several years — first when Simmons committed to Smart at Alabama, then when both moved on to Georgia, and culminating (for now) with the moment that almost saw Simmons clinch Georgia a national championship by beating Alabama.
College football fans are well aware what ended up happening: Simmons, rushing from the left side of Georgia’s punt-block line, appeared to have blocked an Alabama punt in the third quarter of the National Championship Game Jan. 8. It was recovered just inside the 30-yard line, and Georgia would have had a chance to go up 20-0 or 16-0.
Alas, Simmons was ruled offsides by an official, who began throwing the flag about as soon as the play began.
“I thought I timed it just right,” Simmons said in the locker room after the game. “Poor judgment.”
But when Simmons was shown a replay, and he did not appear offsides. Simmons, after watching it several times, said nothing and only opened his eyes wide.
In the nearly two months since then, “Tyler Simmons was onside” has become a meme among Georgia fans, still grumbling about the call. If the play had stood, the outcome of the game may have been different.
But that also comes up with a couple asterisks. No one knows for sure what would have happened after Georgia’s offense took over. Georgia did have a 20-7 lead later in the game and had the ball at Alabama’s 39, only to throw an interception.
Simmons may not have been offsides – OK, he clearly wasn’t – but an Alabama player did false start, and it wasn’t called either. So if the play had been ruled correctly, Alabama would have had to punt again, just as it ended up doing, only it would have been 10 yards further back.
In any case, Simmons is almost certainly hoping his legacy at Georgia is more than an almost legend, more than just a meme.
He will be a junior in 2018 with a quiet career on the offensive front so far. He did have a 9-yard catch in the Rose Bowl, one of his 3 catches this year, which totaled 26 yards. He had 2 catches for 19 yards as a freshman.
But there could always be more opportunities coming, and he’ll have a chance this spring to make a first impression on a new receivers coach, Cortez Hankton. There’s also no reason to believe Smart has stopped believing in Simmons.
Some programs recruited Simmons to be a defensive back, but he ended up committing at first to Alabama, and Smart, as a receiver. When Smart moved on to Georgia, it may have seemed inevitable. But Simmons nearly re-committed to Alabama on the eve of National Signing Day. But before he could pick up the phone and call Nick Saban, Simmons went up to his room and came back downstairs an hour later, having changed his mind. His father told him to sleep on it and make sure.
Two years ago, Simmons recalled what happened the next morning, on National Signing Day.
“I woke up, and said, ‘Go Dawgs.’”