Members of the All Vol Call In Show staff were privileged to attend the game between Pearl Cohn and Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA) on Friday night, August 24th on the MBA campus in Nashville, Tennessee. While the staff is always thrilled to watch a great football game, high school or college, this game was of particular interest to the staff as it pitted a pair of Volunteer commits squaring off head to head against one another. So, the show went on the road to bring a live look at these teams and interviews with the future Vols involved to our wonderful viewers and readers.
Playing for the Pearl Cohn Firebirds was Defensive Tackle and Offensive Guard Elijah Simmons. At six-foot one inch and nearly three hundred forty pounds, Simmons is an absolutely massive human being. How there can be that much human body in one spot in less than 18 years boggles the mind. However, the Vols didn’t offer Simmons a scholarship simply for being big, he is plenty strong as well, and knows how to use that size and strength.
Simmons commanded a double team when he lined up in the middle of the Firebird defense. There were a few occasions that due to play or scheme, MBA elected to block Simmons one on one. It wasn’t a coincidence that most of those plays ended up as a loss, though Simmons wasn’t always the one making the tackle. He was, however, the one driving the man across from him four or five yards into the backfield and blowing a play up. It is important to remember that as a Nose Tackle, particularly in a 3-4 scheme that Tennessee is recruiting Simmons to play in, a Nose Tackle can do his job perfectly for an entire game without making a single tackle. He is the lynchpin of the defense by commanding a double team each play, and then stoning or driving back the pair committed to him. He frees up lanes for the linebackers and the five-technique ends to make plays by occupying blockers, opening lanes, and blowing plays up by pushing lineman into the backfield. That skillset requires size, but more importantly, exceptional functional strength, which Simmons showed on multiple occasions against MBA. Simmons can play too high at times as he tires a bit, and his technique is a bit raw, but the exceptional physical gifts are evident when he plays. Simmons shows proper technique far more often than not, and though he can play high when tired, he answers another important question even in that critique.
Whenever teams recruit a 3-4 Nose Tackle coming out of high school, the inevitable concern is almost always regarding weight or conditioning. It is difficult to play at that weight for all the snaps in a college football game, so the big tackles usually must monitor weight and conditioning closely, usually requiring a redshirt to get into college condition. Do not expect that to be the case for Elijah Simmons. Simmons played all but three to five snaps of the game on Friday, which he missed for cramps. Not all but three to five snaps on defense, three to five snaps of the entire game. Simmons played essentially the entire game at Defensive Tackle and Offensive Guard for the Firebirds, and made a dramatic impact at both positions. This evaluation will focus primarily on Simmons’ performance as a Nose Tackle, as that is where Tennessee is projecting him to play, however, should the Vols require this young man to slide into the rotation as an offensive guard, there is no doubt he would quickly become a favorite of the running backs to follow. Earlier there was a critique of Simmons playing a bit high when he was tired, it is important to note that this didn’t start to surface until late in the contest, and it was uncommon to see even then. At the next level, Simmons is only going to be asked to play one side of the ball, and the reduction in snaps he will be required to play will help him immensely.
Simmons showed excellent conditioning, particularly for a player of his size, throughout the game. He contributed some of that to the running his coaches put him through, and some to being a member of the track and field team where he competes in events such as the javelin. That conditioning was what most surprised and impressed when watching Simmons, but the facet of his game that excites the most is his first step. A man of that size simply has no business coming out of his stance as quickly as Simmons does. His first step is frightening at times and allows him to do more than simply command and eat up a double team, it allows him to split that double team coming out of his stance, penetrate, and deliver a crushing hit to blow up and then stop a play in the backfield himself. Early in the game, Simmons did precisely that, beating the center and guard out of their stances, splitting the double team, and reaching the running back at almost the same time as the quarterback. Asked after the game what was going through his mind when he shot the gap, Simmons replied, “I just knew I had to make that play. I had to make the tackle and stop him for my team.” Simmons did more than make the play, he made it with authority, delivering a massive hit, then wrapping and dropping the ball carrier.
That play reflected another comment Simmons made post game. When asked if he preferred offense or defense, Simmons flashed his big smile and replied emphatically with, “Defense.” He was posed the question of why he preferred defense, and the big man answered with the same smile, “Because you get to mess guys up.” Messing guys up is going to be exactly what Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols ask Elijah to do when he arrives in Knoxville. After watching him on Friday night, he should put a smile like his own on the faces of his coaches, as he appears to be more than up to the task. Consider this the author’s initial entry in an application to be President of the Elijah Simmons fan club, because this young man is going to shine when he arrives in Knoxville.
If you haven’t already, take a look in our videos for live footage from the Pearl Cohn vs MBA game, as well as our post-game interview with Elijah Simmons. Also, take a look at the first half of this Recruiting Spotlight, where we featured the other player that brought the All Vol Call In Show to MBA that night, Montgomery Bell Academy Offensive Tackle Jackson Lampley.