More To Life Than Football

Nov. 20, 2000

Even with a holiday like Thanksgiving approaching, it sometimestakes a whole lot to remind each of us of how much we have to bethankful for. The Trojans may be struggling, but sometimes in life,there are more important things to consider.

Like life itself.

Antuan Simmons is one who doesn't need to be reminded. He'sbeen around that block once already. He's just happy to still bearound.

A year ago at this time, the senior cornerback was watching theUCLA game from his hospital bed after undergoing surgery for aherniated disc in his lower back. Six months later, he was in thehospital again, but this time it was to remove a benign abdominaltumor. What was supposed to be a five-day visit turned into a sixweek ordeal. Transformed from a 185-pound bundle of muscle intoa sickly young man, Simmons found it hard to be thankful when eventhe phrase 'Well, you still have your health' couldn't even apply.It was an arduous process--one that you don't expect when you arean invincible 21-year-old college athlete with your whole future infront of you.

'It was a shock,' said Simmons, who has 175 tackles, seveninterceptions and six blocked kicks in his career.' I was rehabbingmy back from a previous injury and they did a routine MRI to see ifeverything was okay. They saw some swollen lymph nodes downby my stomach, so they did a biopsy and they said I had anabdominal tumor.'

That tumor meant that Simmons would have to sit out the entire 2000season as a redshirt while recovering. It was an outcome morepainful than the malady that he was dealing with physically.

'I wasn't scared of the actual surgery,' said Simmons. 'It hurt morethat I couldn't play this year. I just wanted to get the tumor out andgo on with my life. I was only supposed to be in the hospital for fivedays.'

It turned out to be a much harder journey than he expected. His daysand nights in the hospital in May and June were often empty andfrustrating. And often perilous, as various complications from thesurgery threatened his life.

'There were times when I'd wake up in the morning and I'd be bymyself and I'd just be looking at the ceiling,' recalls Simmons. 'Ihave a little daughter, Terisha, so I was always thinking how I hadto get back to her. I knew I couldn't leave my little girl.'

Simmons may have been out of sight, but he wasn't out of the mindsof Trojan fans everywhere. As news of his surgery trickled out, thecards and letters flowed in to his hospital room. So did his friends,among them USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett.

'Mike Garrett and his wife came to visit often,' said Simmons. 'Italked to him a lot. We had some long talks and it helped me outbecause it made me feel like I was part of the 'Trojan Family.''Indeed, for the first time Simmons saw up close and personal whatthe fabled 'Trojan Family' was all about.

'I got a lot of support from my family and friends on the team,' saidSimmons. 'I also got a lot of support from USC. The 'Trojan Family'feels real now. I just want to thank everyone who helped me throughthe surgery. People came out of the woodwork--people I didn'teven know--to see me and to help my mom. I just want to thankeverybody.

'You hear a lot of talk about the 'Trojan Family.' But I found out whatit really means now. I got cards from tons of people all over thenation, from places like North Dakota and North Carolina. It wasnice.'

Buoyed by this support, Simmons went back home to Sacramentoin July and began his road back to full health. Then, with footballseason just around the corner, he returned to his teammates. It wasan emotional scene on the practice fields of Irvine, Calif., where theTrojans took a break from grueling two-a-day practices to greet him.

'It felt good to be back,' said Simmons. 'I walked on the field andCoach Hackett gathered everyone around and they gave me astanding ovation.'

And so Simmons started his return to normalcy. He went back toschool, stood on the sidelines during the games, observed practices--everything short of playing for a young secondary that clearlymissed his coverage skills and tenacious play. With this seasondrawing to a close, he can hardly wait for next season to begin. Hehas so much time to make up for.

'My biggest thing is I'll probably be nervous about proving myselfagain,' said Simmons. 'I know my teammates will be watching meand comparing me to how I was then, with how I am now.'

One thing is for sure--this is one Thanksgiving when Simmons willbe especially thankful. It's easy for him to count his blessings now.They surround him everyday in a myriad of ways.

'I have so much to be thankful for,' he said. 'What I went throughputs life in perspective. It's like when you get to college, footballtakes over your life. When the tumor was discovered, it showed methere's more to life than football.'

So maybe he's not invincible, but he's thankful. And he still has onemore guarantee to fulfill before he's through:'I'll be back,' he said.

by Chris Huston
Assistant Sports Information Director

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