Cardinal Mooney High graduate John Simon capped a stellar career at Ohio State by earning the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. The senior defensive tackle started the first 11 games, making 45 tackles, including 14.5 for loss with nine sacks for the Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0), who completed just the sixth perfect season in OSU history but are not eligible to play in a bowl game.
Simon missed the Michigan game after rupturing a bursa sac in his knee but “I’m doing well now,” he said. He spoke by phone this week with Vindicator sports writer Joe Scalzo.
Q. What was it like to miss the finale? It sounds like you did everything could to play in that game.
A. We definitely did everything we could. We did some drastic stuff the morning of that game to see if we could get it going and unfortunately we weren’t able to do it. I had to make that decision [not to play] probably about 15 minutes before kickoff. So I had to deal with some demons there in the locker room a little bit. But my team picked me up fast and let me know that they were behind me every step of the way. The process was a lot quicker with them having my back. They went out and played lights out. I’ve really never been more proud of a group of guys. I really appreciate what they went out and did.
Q. If this had been, say, the third week of the season and you had been playing a [Mid-American Conference] team, would you have ruled yourself out earlier than that?
A. No, absolutely not. As a team, we take every team we go up against as seriously as possible. Especially when you’re at the point where you’re trying to have a perfect season, you can’t afford to lose any games. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is — you have to give everything you’ve got in every game.
Q. What’s this month been like for you? Obviously at this point you’d normally be getting ready for a bowl game.
A. It’s definitely tough seeing other teams getting ready for bowl games and playing for championships. But we knew [we couldn’t] coming into the season so we just wanted to make the most of the opportunity we got, especially this year. And we were able to do that and have a perfect season.
Q. What is the legacy of this season? How are you going to look back on it?
A. As a senior class, we did everything possible to get the program back on the right track. Obviously we struggled a little bit last year [going 6-7] and as a senior group, we really just wanted to set the foundation for [head coach Urban Meyer] and set the foundation for the future Ohio State era. We did that this year.
Q. You were named defensive player of the year in the Big Ten. What was your reaction?
A. It’s a tremendous honor to receive that award and it definitely means a lot to me. But, first and foremost, it’s a team award. I wouldn’t have been able to get the production I did without the guys up front taking on double teams, freeing me up one-on-one, and the guys on the back end covering to give me extra time to get to the quarter. I give those guys all the praise.
Q. How do you want people to remember you as an Ohio State player?
A. Well, I mean, people can remember me however they want. All I was able to do was go out and lead the guys the best I could and give 100 percent every play and do everything possible to help the team get a victory. I have no regrets leaving Ohio State. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to play the final game, which killed me inside, but like I said, I was never more proud of a group of guys in my life.
Q. I want to ask you a couple things about what Coach Meyer said about you. He joked that if he had another son, he would name him after you and he’s compared you to Tim Tebow in your work ethic. What’s it like hearing things like that?
A. (Laughing) I don’t have any part in the decision on whether to have another son or not. That’s between him and [his wife] Shelley. I’m not getting involved there. But coming from someone with his track record and all the succcess he’s had and the kind of person he is — he’s a great guy — for him to say something like that about me is a tremendous honor. He’s the type of coach you want to play for every day.
Q. Let’s shift to the draft. What are your plans for the next couple months?
A. First, to train hard. I started as early as possible — the Sunday after the final game, trying to do everything I can. I’ve done a lot of rehab on the knee. I’ll be in the Senior Bowl [on Jan. 26] so hopefully I can compete well and do well there. And I’m going to graduate next semester, so that’s first and foremost. I’ll just take it from there.
Q. Have you hired an agent?
A. I signed with Michael Perrett at Sports Trust [Advisors]. He’s a very sincere guy and the whole organization has a family atmosphere. I feel it’s important to have someone who looks out for you and who you’re comfortable with.
Q. People in Youngstown take a lot of pride in you. Is that important to you, to represent your hometown well?
A. Absolutely. I appreciate all the support I get from my hometown. I love being from Youngstown. It’s just a blue-collar place. It taught me my morals growing up, about a hard work ethic and the blue-collar mentality you need to play football. I think that’s a huge reason for my success today. I’m grateful to be from that city and I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received.
Q. Do you know [Fitch senior DT] Billy Price? He’s a guy who is sort of following in your footsteps.
A. I hear he’s a great player. I’ve never talked to him before but I’m happy he’s going to Ohio State and that another Youngstown guy is going to play defensive line there. That’s pretty exciting.