Former prep QB Shayne Simon ready to get defensive for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Before he was an aspiring high school quarterback, good enough to be a couple of notches down the depth chart as a freshman from burgeoning senior Brandon Wimbush, Shayne Simon was a survivor.

The soon-to-be freshman rover on the Notre Dame football team, rejoining forces with former St. Peter’s Prep teammate and still current close friend Wimbush in June, doesn’t talk much about the heart surgery he underwent at age 9.

But he admits he’ll never take the positive outcome for granted.

“It happened and I’ve grown from it,” the West Orange, N.J., product said in a recent phone interview. “I’m lucky to still be here and live my life and do what I want to do.”

What Simon would like to do beginning in mid-June has nothing to do with playing quarterback, a positon willingly abandoned as a junior at the Jersey City parochial school football powerhouse. Well, maybe a little with regard to quarterbacking.

ND’s rover position in first-year coordinator Clark Lea’s defensive scheme is designed to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Coming out of spring practice, it’s the least settled position on a defense otherwise loaded with experience everywhere, depth at most positons and seemingly the best personnel overall since the 2012 team that carried a No. 1 ranking in the AP poll into the BCS National Championship Game.

Senior Asmar Bilal and sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah emerged as kind of a mix-and-match rover solution in the spring, with incumbent starter Drue Tranquill having moved to inside linebacker.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Simon, hoping to be at 225 when he enrolls in a few weeks, has both the skill set and ambition to rearrange the depth chart.

“I want to come in and compete,” Simon said. “And even if it turns out that I’m not starting, I want to help the team by pushing the other guys to do their best.”

But is he camera ready?

“The unknown comes at the stage when you put them out there and they’re neutralized physically for the first time in their lives, for a lot of them,” Kelly said last summer on the day his last crop of freshmen took to the field for summer OTAs for the first time.

“They’re no longer bigger, faster, stronger than everybody else. You have to see how they fight through that. and when they’re neutralized, are they able to find that next level? Some of them do, and then you know you have a great one.”

Former Notre Dame walk-on defensive lineman Marquis Dickerson saw plenty of players on both sides of the equation during his four years in South Bend (2013-16). And, as a defensive assistant for head coach Rich Hansen’s St. Peter’s Prep Marauders last fall, Dickerson saw enough of Simon to project how he might fit in during his freshman season.

“There are going to be kids that are athletically ready to play as freshmen in college, but that’s only part of the package,” Dickerson said. “I know Shayne’s mentally ready. He’s going to contribute in some way. You’ve got to get him on the field.”

Simon contributed this past season at St. Peter’s Prep as an outside linebacker, with schematic responsibilities very similar to ND’s rover position, and at wide receiver. He, in fact, was the Marauders’ leading receiver with 53 catches for 848 yards and six TDs.

On defense, Simon led the team with four interceptions and was third in tackles for loss behind only current and future teammates Jayson and Justin Ademilola, both defensive linemen.

Jayson Ademilola, was the only prospect in the 2018 ND recruiting class rated higher (No. 45 nationally) than Simon (No. 48). Rivals, meanwhile, tagged Simon as the No. 168 overall prospect, with defensive back Houston Griffith (No. 43) as the top Irish recruit in its rankings.

Both recruiting services deemed Simon as a four-star prospect.

“The very first day I was a coach at St. Peter’s Prep I noticed him,” Dickerson said of Simon, a former safety in addition to being a former QB. “He’s such an explosive athlete. Just the way he moves, he’s so savvy, so smooth.

“I look over and say, ‘Who the hell is that? Who’s No. 3? Is he going anywhere?’

“The other coaches told me he was choosing between Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan. So from that day on, I was on him. I knew Notre Dame had to have him.”

Notre Dame and Dickerson already have that feeling about Simon’s younger brother Cody, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore linebacker for St. Peter’s Prep. He’s already amassed six scholarship offers, one of which comes from the Irish.

“I think he’s an extra instinctive player,” Shayne said of his only other sibling. “He’s athletic, has a real high football IQ, and can play inside and outside. He’s going to get better and better as he gets older.”

Between now and his mid-June arrival, Shayne Simon is trying to get better by working with a personal trainer and studying the Irish defensive playbook on his iPad.

He also made the trip to South Bend, at his own expense, to take in the Blue-Gold Game spring finale at Notre Dame Stadium on April 21.

“It was really my first time being in the stadium for a game,” he said. “It was a good time. I thought the team played really well.

“I did watch the rovers a lot. I think it’s going to be a good fit for me.”

He also likes how he fits with Lea, who was ND’s linebackers coach only when Simon verbally committed last summer and signed in December. Lea was promoted in January after one-and-done defensive coordinator Mike Elko bolted for Texas A&M.

“Coach Lea and I have a good relationship; he’s awesome,” Simon said. “I really like how he recruited me and how the communication has continued to this day.”

Said Lea, “I’m really excited for Shayne. I think as we approach things right now, it’s unfair to him to project what he will be able to do, because there’s just a lot that goes into that.

“As I am excited for him and I have a plan to execute with him in terms of when he arrives, I want to be surprised by what he’s capable of helping us with this year. If he proves himself capable — just like any of the other guys coming in — we will absolutely have a place for him.” Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Rover Shayne Simon, shown here running a drill last June at Irish Invasion camp at Notre Dame, arrives on campus as a freshman mid-June with aspirations of making an immediate impact for the Irish.