By JOEL COLEMAN
HOOVER, Ala. – For months now, a big question has hung over the Mississippi State football program. It has been a 6-foot-4, 310-pound question to be exact.
In March, then-signee Jeffery Simmons was charged with simple assault when a video surfaced of an altercation in which Simmons struck a woman multiple times. Simmons has since enrolled at MSU, but the defensive lineman from Noxubee County will have to sit out the first game of his career in addition to undergoing counseling and evaluation.
On Tuesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days from the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, queries about Simmons and the process that led to his enrollment poured in for Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.
“I wasn’t involved as much,” Mullen said of the decision to admit Simmons. “It was a university decision, but I was just thrilled that we’re having Jeffrey as part of our family coming in.”
Simmons signed with Mississippi State in February as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player in the state. Simmons chose the Bulldogs over offers from Ole Miss, Alabama and a host of others.
A month later, the now-widely-circulated video surfaced of Simmons delivering blows to a woman in the midst of an apparent fight between that individual and another woman.
Fast-forward to the present and Simmons is a full-fledged member of MSU’s program. Mullen said that’s the case because of the time and effort Mississippi State officials put into researching the matter.
“I think one of the things you have to do, in any time a situation like that occurs, you have to have a great investigation into what happened and into getting as many details from as many people as you possibly can to make good decisions,” Mullen said. “You want to make sure that everybody is involved. It’s not a football decision. It is a university decision that we’re all looking at making. And we want to go out there and to do that, we have to have as much information as possible. In this situation, our university did a very, very thorough investigation into everything that happened within the situation there and came up with the conclusion that we felt that Jeffery deserved the opportunity to be part of our family. Now we move forward in helping educate and develop a young man to become successful in his life.”
So far, since enrolling, Simmons is earning the respect of his teammates on the defensive side of the ball. Senior linebacker Richie Brown says he’s been impressed at Simmons’ work ethic.
“He’s been doing lots of treatment, counseling and all that stuff,” Brown said. “He’s been a great teammate.
“I haven’t really got to advise him on anything, but we’ve talked and I’ve patted him on the back and we’ve just kind of talked to each other. I’ve just seen him working hard every day.”
Brown said he’s seen a sense of regret in Simmons as a result of his incident.
“He’s handled everything really well,” Brown said. “It was a mistake, but he’s been working hard and doing really well right now.
“He realizes what he did and you can tell being around him that he’s very apologetic and he’s working really hard to prove people wrong.”
Despite Simmons’ best efforts, there’s certainly an amount of risk involved with allowing him to enroll at MSU and join the football team. Mullen admitted as much on Monday and said that, should anything happen, he shoulders part of that blame. However, Mullen also said that’s the case with each of his players.
“We’re all responsible (if something happens),” Mullen said. “I’m responsible for all of the actions for every one of my players. I’m responsible as a head coach. I can’t be with them all the time. All I can do is be a parent. My wife and I try to be parents to every one of the kids in our program. Not an individual. Just every single one of them.
“I take a great deal of responsibility of all of our players and actions that they do, good and bad.”