If it weren't for a phone call after the 2012 college football season, there is a chance that redshirt junior defensive back Jordan Simone isn't wearing maroon and gold. In fact there is a chance he's not even playing football.
After graduating from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Washington in 2011, he walked on at Washington State. Current Arizona State co-defensive coordinator in charge of safeties and defensive backs Chris Ball was the defensive coordinator for the Cougars at the time under then-head coach Paul Wulff. Wulff was fired at the end of the 2011 season. Ball joined Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham's staff and had a message for Simone.
"I always told him ‘If you ever want to play again let me know,'" Ball said. " He gave me a call a few months later, came down, and walked on and worked his tail off. Now he's in a position to be a really good player for us."
Now, after redshirting in 2013, there is a chance Simone could start Thursday night against Weber State if everything falls into place for him. It has been a roller coaster first few weeks for Simone, who began at first team field safety while Marcus Ball was in a green no-contact jersey.
Then James Johnson came on strong during the second week of camp and took some of Simone's reps. At Camp Tontozona, Ball got the first team reps in the scrimmage and dressed out in full pads and was going what seemed like full speed after the team returned to Tempe. Graham said Sunday after practice that Simone has not only moved back ahead of Johnson in his eyes, but there is a chance that Ball may not start Thursday if Graham doesn't feel he's ready or has had enough reps.
"I always expect the best out of myself," Simone said. "The coaches do a really good job of telling us what we can and can't control and I've just been worried about the stuff that I can control: my attitude and my effort."
How can Simone keep all of this excitement inside? After all, he redshirted, walked-on at two different schools, and now has a shot to start. The uncertainty surrounding Marcus Ball and the news of his medical clearance on Tuesday is only adding to the anticipation. Chris Ball said it's all about execution of what he's been taught.
"He's got to be prepared to do what he's been coached to do, one, and two he's got to know his strengths and weaknesses," he said. "He's got to play one snap at a time and be a great communicator out there and do the things that he's coached to do."
A palpable energy
One of the things that separates Simone from the rest of the team at safety, besides his number, is the energy he brings on a daily basis to practice. He's consistently one of the most vocal members of the team on and off the field, trying to boost the morale at practice with indiscernible hoots and hollers with an occasional, "Let's go boys!" mixed in.
"It's just the way I've always played," Simone said. " And it's the way my dad taught me how to play when I was a kid was to play with passion so that's what I always do because I love this game."
Simone added that he does it because he has chip on his shoulder, having not received a scholarship out of high school, so he's in a constant mode to try and prove himself. It's something Chris Ball notices as well.
"He's a bright eyed kid who loves football," Ball said. "He comes out every day and gets better. He's got great character, he's smart, he's tough, he's got a great work ethic and he's talented so he's done a great job."
Ball and Simone have a relationship off the field as well. Ball said the two shared a special moment together when Simone was surprised with a scholarship by Graham last week. Simone said Ball played an integral part in campaigning on his behalf for a scholarship as well.
"He's like a father figure for sure," Simone said. "He's one of the best guys I've ever met. I'm blessed to have the coach that I do and I wouldn't change it for the world."
Simone starting all hinges on how the coaching staff feels that Marcus Ball is progressing at boundary safety. But if the Sun Devils decide to reward effort and time put in at camp over talent on Thursday night, Chris Ball might get to give Simone another call
"One of the great things about being a coach, any time you can reward a man for doing something good, it really makes you feel good," Ball said. "He’s had a really good camp and probably been the most consistent guy back there."