Isaiah Simmons didn’t arrive at Clemson until four years after DeAndre Hopkins left campus in 2012 as the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and 100-yard receiving games.
But even though Simmons, the former unanimous All-American and 2019 Butkus Award winner, didn’t suit up with Hopkins at Clemson, the two former Tigers have formed a good friendship this season while playing together as teammates with the Arizona Cardinals.
Simmons, the eighth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, credits Hopkins for being a mentor to him and helping him make the transition from college football to the NFL.
“Us Clemson guys gotta stay together,” Simmons said during a recent interview with Cardinals team reporter and producer Lisa Matthews. “But he’s kind of like a big brother to me. Kind of took me under his wing, and he guides me, gives me a lot of help and advice on a lot of situations just because he’s been in the league eight years now. So, he’s seen it inside and out, so he definitely helps me out with pretty much all situations. Whenever I’ve got a question, I know he’s going to be there to help answer it.”
Simmons and Hopkins are around each other a lot off the field, too, so Simmons sent out a Tweet recently saying he is looking for a custom checkerboard for he and Hopkins to enjoy during their down time.
“So, me and him, we play a lot of card games and checkers a lot,” Simmons said, explaining the Twitter post. “But we’ve been playing checkers on our phones, so we need it real, live in person. So, we’re looking for like a cool custom (checkerboard) to spend time on, like kind of half Clemson, half Cardinals, something. That would be pretty cool.”
I need someone to make @DeAndreHopkins and I a custom checker board! Dm me
— Isaiah Simmons (@isaiahsimmons25) November 19, 2020
After playing a starring role on Clemson’s defense over his final two seasons there and serving as an all-around playmaker for the Tigers, Simmons has seen sporadic playing time as a rookie for the Cardinals and had to bide his time while waiting for more opportunities on the field — which have come of late as he has played 32 defensive snaps in each of the past two games.
Simmons admits it has been difficult standing on the sidelines more than he was used to, but says he has been trusting the process, trying to learn the NFL game and leaning on veteran teammates like Hopkins, future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson for advice.
“It’s definitely tough going from like being ‘the man’ pretty much, playing every single snap, every down, to coming in and having to sit and kind of just learn the game,” Simmons said. “At first, I didn’t really understand it, but I talk with the veteran guys, guys like Pat P and even DeAndre, Larry, like everyone. They all gave me a lot of good advice just to keep working and when my time came, to be able to just take full advantage of it.”
Simmons did just that in the Cardinals’ most recent game, shining on the national stage with a team-high 10 tackles including a sack in a Nov. 19 contest vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football.
“It felt really good,” he said of the standout performance. “Honestly, I just kind of felt like my old self out there, finally getting the opportunity to get back out there and be able to help the team in every way I could. So, just being out there, making all those plays, I felt like I was back at Clemson again, honestly. But very encouraging, huge confidence boost just kind of with the slow start of how my career went. But I was just happy that I was able to get back out there with the guys.”
Three weeks earlier in the Cardinals’ first matchup of the season against the Seahawks, Simmons recorded his first career interception, a pick of Russell Wilson in overtime that led to the game-winning field goal.
ISAIAH SIMMONS. INTERCEPTED.
— NFL (@NFL) October 26, 2020
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