Ellwood’s Simmons doesn’t think about “what if”

Published 2:23 pm Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rayshawn Simmons is a senior running back  for the Ellwood Christian Eagles. This is the third school he's played high school football for in four years.—Alaina Denean Deshazo

Rayshawn Simmons is a senior football player for the Ellwood Christian Eagles. This is the third school he’s played high school football for in four years.—Alaina Denean Deshazo

By Justin Fedich | Selma Times-Journal

Rayshawn Simmons has called many places home throughout his life. He’s lived with his uncle, he’s lived with his father and, when he was younger, he lived with his mother.

No matter where Simmons is living, he always feels at home on a football field.

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Simmons started his high school career at linebacker with Dallas County High School, transferred to Maplesville for his sophomore year and is now playing in his first full season at Ellwood Christian as a senior. He’s moved to many places, but the way he approaches each day hasn’t changed.

An 11-year-old Simmons arrived at the hospital on Aug. 8 knowing bad news was coming. He didn’t want to look his cousin Freida in the eyes, but eventually gained the courage to hear what she had to say.

“Your mom just passed. She broke her neck, but they said if she had on her seatbelt, she would’ve been alright.”

Simmons said he was crushed, but more importantly, he was inspired that day to work as hard as he can to achieve greatness on and off the football field. He always wonders what would have happened if his mother were wearing her seatbelt.

Simmons doesn’t want to wonder “what if” about anything else, especially when it comes to being the best football player he can be.

“What if I don’t lift this weight an extra time, I can lose something. Or if I don’t flip this tire an extra time, I can lose something. That’s the only thing that’s running through my head. That’s the only thing I think about,” Simmons said.

Simmons moved out of his father’s house in Maplesville last fall and into his uncle’s house in Selma to be with his brother Rayford Mitchell, a senior at Ellwood. There were plenty of benefits of living in Maplesville.

For one, Maplesville was a regular visitor to the state championship. In addition, Simmons had his father to watch him play. It was the first time Simmons had someone to consistently show up to watch him play since his mother died.

Still, the thrill of being able to play alongside his brother at Ellwood was too good to pass up. Simmons wasn’t able to play last season because he moved to Ellwood in the middle of the season. This year, Mitchell is overjoyed to be playing football together with his brother for the first time.

Rayford Mitchell hands the ball off to his brother Rayshawn Simmons at a preseason practice. This is the first year the two will be playing on the same team together.—Alaina Denean Deshazo

Rayshawn Simmons takes a handoff from his brother Rayford Mitchell at a preseason practice. This is the first year the two will be playing on the same team together.—Alaina Denean Deshazo

“Before he moved I was like, ‘Bro I don’t want you to go because it’ll be different because we might not ever see each other again,’” Mitchell said.

Mitchell is seeing plenty of his brother now.

Simmons is the Eagles’ fullback and Mitchell is the running back, but both take handoffs. One play, Simmons will take the ball and Mitchell will block for him. The next play, Simmons will be blocking for his brother.

Simmons hates thinking “what if”, but when he lost his final game at Maplesville against Pickens County in the state championship in 2013, “what if” crossed his mind. When Simmons arrived at Ellwood, he wasted no time getting to work.

Just 10 days out from Ellwood’s first game against Francis Marion. Simmons had yet to play a snap in an Ellwood uniform, but he already established himself as the vocal leader on the team. To start off practice, he gets the energy flowing by routinely yelling out, “Are y’all ready! Are y’all ready!”

Simmons gets the team going and is the main voice of encouragement throughout practice.

“We’re only making each other better, baby!” Simmons said to his teammates during practice.

His friends call him Ray Ray and he grew up wearing No. 52 because he looks up to former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Simmons isn’t the loudest kid, but when he gets around football, he takes on the Lewis persona and does whatever he can to motivate his teammates.

“It just motivates me because a lot of us are missing parents,” said senior quarterback Macio Johnson. “I’m missing my father. He’s in prison. Just to see him not having a mother, my mom, she’s my number one support and him not having that makes me feel like, if he can do it and keep pushing I know I can.”

Simmons has aspirations outside of football. He wants to go to a four-year college and get a degree. He also wants to be an actor. Simmons believes football can prepare him to accomplish all his goals.

“Football motivates me. Things that I do on the field and off the field, I just love it. Then, it motivates me to do other things,” Simmons said. “I just can’t play football. I’ve got to have a backup plan.”

Right now, no one can stop Simmons from giving his all in the weight room, on the practice field and during games. The Eagles don’t have a huge roster and others don’t have huge expectations for them.

But they do have a player with a huge heart. That alone will take the team much further than a state championship.

“I don’t want to hear ‘what if,’” Simmons said. “I just want to make sure we do it.”