Navy linebacker Tyler Simmons was really looking forward to spring football practice. As the team’s third leading tackler in 2009, Simmons would be the only ‘backer returning on Navy’s inexperienced unit in 2010, and would be called upon to set the tone for the spring. There was only one problem: A ‘stupid’ decision that nearly cost him his career, and maybe much more.
The phrases ‘spleen injury’ and ‘skiing accident’ are the kinds that sports fans have the tendency to laugh at, and the kind of misfortune blogs like to take shots at. Drawing the inevitable responses of “what a dumb thing to do” by those not in the know, the reality is that Simmons’ offseason ski accident was no laughing matter.
“I hit a mogul and I went down onto my ski poll and my ski poll broke a couple of my ribs and cut up my spleen pretty badly,” recalled Simmons, who missed the entire spring season after suffering the injury. “I went to the hospital that night. (The doctors) cut off the blood flow to my spleen a couple days later and I spent a few weeks in the hospital.”
That was in February, after Simmons and several other Navy football players took a weekend off to hit the slopes at nearby Whitetail ski resort in southwestern Pennsylvania. An Oklahoma native, Simmons is the first to point out that his misfortune wasn’t just as case of bad luck.
“We were skiing and snowboarding and just basically being stupid with trying stuff that we were not near good enough to do,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could go down this hill as fast as I could without turning and it ended up biting me in the butt.”
An imposing 6-foot-3, 228-pound spartan on the field, Simmons nevertheless knew that this wasn’t an injury to walk off, and quickly got himself to a hospital that evening. The prognosis wasn’t good, but it could have been worse. “They said if I would have waited a couple more days than it definitely would have been a lot more serious, but I went in that night,” he said.
“No one was panicking – I’ll put it that way,” Simmons added. “They were like, ‘yea, we need to take care of it now, but don’t freak out.’”
Aside from breaking his ribs and rupturing his spleen, the senior linebacker endured quite a bit of internal bleeding, and had to be monitored in the hospital until the tissue scared over. Once released he was a no-go for all football activities, including the infamous non-contact physical conditioning drills called “Fourth Quarters” which Navy players go through each offseason. Working on strict orders from Navy’s coaches and team physicians, Simmons instead spent the months of March and April watching his teammates and resting his body.
“For the first week of (Fourth Quarters) they wouldn’t even let me get out of bed,” he said. “They wanted me to get my rest and sleep in, which was really frustrating to me. For awhile there it was just a no-go on everything – for like a month and a half.”
Recovery was a slow process, and one which has taken the senior the better part of three months. Frustrated by his inability to join his teammates on the field or participate fully in workouts and lifting sessions, the former Washington (OK) High School Class President suddenly found himself in a very foreign situation.
“During spring camp all your boys are out there getting rowdy and hitting people, and you’re just kind of sitting back” he lamented. “That’s not really something I ever had to do before. Even as a freshman – I mean I didn’t get much playing time – but I was able to get in on the drills. So you learn how much you love being around and being active in (the game).”
Activity is something Simmons is looking to get back into. Although coaches and doctors feared he might have to miss the first part of the season as his body continued to heel, he recently received the green light to participate fully in Navy’s upcoming fall camp.
“I actually just got cleared the other day and I’m cleared for the season,” he said, adding that “I feel better now than I did before it happened.”
Aside from learning how much he truly loves the game, Simmons said the injury taught him several things, including how hard his teammates work. He said that while he would have liked to compete in spring ball, he knows the team is better because of experience earned by up-and-coming linebackers like juniors Caleb King and Max Blue.
“Another thing I learned was just how hard my team works,” Simmons said. “I guess when you’re out there you don’t really get to see it, but when you’re out on the sidelines you’re just like ‘damn, these guys are working their (butts) off right now.’”
“It was a disappointing spring (for me personally), but in the end it worked out well,” he added. “We have a bunch of new guys at linebacker, and they all got a lot of reps. I think it was all meant for a reason.”
He may very well be right on that account. The Admiral Mack Award winner for the team’s most improved player during the spring of 2009, Simmons said that his slow recovery progress – while frustrating – has helped him build back his body to be stronger than ever. It’s a factor which has left him itching to get into the action, and one which he hopes will give him a continued drive to compete throughout the season.
“I’ve never gone into a summer before where I’m not beat up from spring ball,” he said. “I weigh more now than I have ever, and it’s good weight. I think my body is rested, and on top of that, I haven’t hit anybody since the Missouri game. I’m ready to get out there and get after it.”
Before he gets after it against Maryland, Simmons knows that he must earn his way back into the lineup with a solid August camp showing. While his 68 tackles in 2009 are good for second among returning Navy tacklers this year, Simmons isn’t assuming that coordinator Buddy Green will just hand him one of two inside linebacker jobs.
“I by no means have a starting position,” Simmons said. “It’s neck and neck with a bunch of guys. I love it, because it kind of lights a fire under me. It lets me know that I have a job to do and I have to do it well or else I’m going to be passed up. It’s definitely inspiring me.”
Simmons’ injury and subsequent recovery have been no laughing matters, but as he looks back on it now, he’s able to chuckle at how the entire experience has come together. If nothing else, he’s learned to value his teammates more, as well as which summer pastimes to avoid.
“I’m done with all my extracurriculars until football season is over,” he said, laughing.
Adam Nettina is a writer for GoMids.com and the sports editor of the Utah Statesman. You can follow him online at twitter.com/AdamNettina.