ARLINGTON, Texas – Yet again, the face of West Virginia’s offense is a literal father figure.
Wide receiver T.J. Simmons has taken former Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier’s role as the primary player picked to represent the team to the public. Simmons was picked as the voice for an official program hype video in the spring and was one of four players sent to represent West Virginia at Big 12 media days.
It may seem unusual for a player with one career touchdown to be appointed to such a forward-facing role. But first-year coach Neal Brown quickly realized it is one that Simmons is meant to play.
“That first week I was there, his personality really stuck out,” Brown said. “And we lost so much production [at wide receiver]. I could tell, watching winter workouts early on, he had the personality and was intentional about leading.”
Like Grier before him, Simmons also happens to be a dad. He’s a rookie in that department, however. His daughter, Leilani Nevaeh Jo Simmons, was born on Sunday — just one day before he departed for media days in Texas.
“She’s a stubborn baby and wanted to come early,” Simmons said.
Simmons and his girlfriend discussed whether he should still come to the event before deciding it was a no-brainer.
“She wants me to get some time away so I get some sleep,” Simmons said.
Simply preparing for his daughter’s arrival changed how Simmons goes about his business.
“I’m approaching things different coming into the facility,” Simmons said. “Just putting in this work so I can provide for her in the future.”
Simmons watched Grier closely enough last year to figure out the keys to a football/fatherhood balance.
“Just seeing how he approached the game even though he had a daughter at home,” Simmons said. “He was still the first one in and one of the last ones to leave. He made sure he took care of every little thing, from recovery and getting into the training room to tweak any little injuries he got.
“Seeing that, I know even though I’ve got a kid at home I can work on my craft and perfect my craft as much as I can. Because she’s going to be there, and that’s who I’m doing it for.”
Simmons’ preparation for his new role as a dad has coincided with Brown’s preparation for his new role as the Mountaineers head coach.
“It’s been such a maturation process over the last six or seven months. And that’s timed up with us getting here and getting this job,” Brown said. “He’s a fun guy. Always smiling. We talk about creating an environment and our first two pillars are fun and positive energy. What better representative than T.J. Simmons for those?”