Sitting on the outskirts of Kansas City, Olathe, Kansas will never be confused for a high school football hotbed but the modest community of around 140,000 was getting plenty of buzz after one of their own, linebacker Isaiah Simmons, was taken with the eighth pick of the 2020 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
Humble beginnings would be one way to describe Simmons’ rise from relative obscurity, to versatile standout defensive star at Clemson, to a Top 10 NFL pick.
We got our guy.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 24, 2020
For Olathe North head coach Chris McCartney, it’s always been a family affair with the Simmons, starting with Isaiah’s four-year older brother, Victor, who led the Eagles to a state championship at quarterback and would later go on to play defensive back and linebacker at the University of Kansas.
“I knew there was a little brother and he was kind of always hanging around, but I never really talked to him much until he came in as a freshman,” McCartney said to Sports360AZ.com moments after Simmons was picked. “He was a little bit taller than Victor was [at that age] so that was pretty exciting. I’m thinking, ‘It’s going to be great to have another terrific athlete from the Simmons’ family in our school.'”
The then-skinny Isaiah not only had the height but the speed, as well. His father, Victor Sr., runs a small AAU track program (Olathe Express) and helped groom his son’s techniques and quickness.
“I just knew [Isaiah] was fast,” McCartney said. “He was doing track for a while. He had a real smooth running motion that stood out right away.He was just a fast kid who could cover well so he played secondary.”
Good luck to Olathe North/Clemson alum @isaiahsimmons25 . You have worked hard and been blessed with great family and friends to help prepare you for this moment. May all your dreams come true! #NFLDraft #ONE pic.twitter.com/phh7vdTxAQ
— Coach McCartney (@CoachMacONFB) April 23, 2020
Simmons’ success on the gridiron coincided with equal accolades in track. He was the Kansas state champion in the long jump in 2014 and 2015 but always remained modest and humbled, even as a local standout two-sport athlete.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh caught wind of Simmons and came for a home visit but it was Clemson defensive coordinator, and Salina, Kansas native, Brett Venables who pushed hardest.
Once Simmons got a taste of Clemson’s atmosphere and free-wheeling, outgoing head coach Dabo Swinney, the choice was clear.
“I think the culture was something that was an attraction,” McCartney explained of Simmons’ Clemson’s visits. “It’s just like you’re having fun all the time and winning ballgames. I think that culture stood out quite a bit.”
He was also recruited by Nebraska, Missouri and Louisville.