Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer knows a little bit about elite defensive linemen. His team has first-team all-American end Corey Moore and second-team all-American end John Engelberger.
Asked this past week about Florida State's two-time first-team all-American nose guard Corey Simon, Beamer breathed a long sigh.
"Well, I've always said this: It's what's up front that counts and he's right up there," Beamer said. "He's the guy right there on the ball and I've always said that the closer you are, the more havoc you can cause close to the ball. It just kind of works its way out. He's absolutely a super football player."
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior from Pompano Beach, Fla., and his 21 tackles for losses this season are as big a reason as any that the No. 1-ranked Seminoles are allowing 99 yards rushing per game going into Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl against No. 2 Virginia Tech.
And he has gotten to this point despite originally signing a letter-of-intent to attend Georgia and being one of the most injured players in Florida State history. By the start of the 1998 season, Simon had undergone five operations--two on each shoulder, one on his left knee. And one of the shoulder operations was followed by liver complications that kept him hospitalized for days. Last season, he shared the Atlantic Coast Conference's Brian Piccolo Award for most courageous comeback from injury.
He hates talking about his injuries, but Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said Simon and senior defensive tackle Jerry Johnson, who combine to give the Seminoles as good an interior defensive tandem as there is in college football, were so banged up this season that they rarely participated in 11-on-11 practices.
"It's really difficult to be able to play on Saturday like you need to when you can't get the great competition during the week," Andrews said. "For Corey to play like he has is remarkable."
Simon would scarcely address the issue. "I'm fine," he said. "Hundred percent."
And that usually is about as much as you'll get from Simon, who said he wanted to celebrate midnight on New Year's Eve in a Bible study. "I'm not one to get wrapped up in the limelight," he said. "I like to sit back and watch things happen."
But plenty happened before he came to Florida State. After he signed with Georgia, there was an NCAA investigation of his recruitment. No action was taken, but he was released from his letter-of-intent and moved on to Florida State, where he sat out his first season, in part because of rotator cuff surgery.
When he began playing, he made an impact. Florida State senior deep snapper Clay Ingram remembers the first time he faced Simon.
"It was my first snaps in full pads. . . . He put his arms on the outside of my shoulder pads and I couldn't move them," Ingram said.
Andrews said Simon takes being strong seriously.
"He didn't think his lower body was strong enough, so in the offseason he worked extremely hard in developing his legs," Andrews said. "And when you look at him, he almost looks out of tilt a little bit because his rear end is big. But that's not fat, now. That's power."
He has also become the team's defensive leader. "I've just accepted that role," Simon said. "That's the only way I know. I wasn't really a vocal type person, but I think I needed to be. The Bible calls for us to be bold and zealous and I just felt it was time for me to be that."
Look for him to do it again Tuesday night.