Withney Simon’s personality is infectious. The Orlando Jones High linebacker can win a person over immediately with his smile. Get to know him a bit more, and his genuine disposition creates immediate friendships.
Oh, and he’s also one heck of a football player.
Those characteristics lead to a baffling scenario for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound backer who averaged 15 tackles a game last season. No, that’s not a typo … 15.
Oh, and he also carries a 3.0 GPA in his core courses required for admission in Football Bowl Subdivision institutions.
Yet Simon still does not have a college football scholarship offer. In fact, only one school currently appears to be close, and Southern Illinois, a Football Championship Subdivision member, still has yet to pull the trigger.
Incredibly, however, the Haitian-born Simon is not letting his situation frustrate him and he lets his faith help him stay eager yet patient.
“I know they’re coming. Sometimes I do feel frustrated, but I know everything is working in God’s time,” Simon said. “So maybe God doesn’t want me to have one right now. When he’s ready for me to get one, it will come.”
Orlando Jones coach Kevin Lewis, who also played at Jones High before going on to star at Duke and in the NFL for the New York Giants, says he thinks teams have been waiting to see Simon improve his hip rotation in pass coverage.
“I think [colleges] haven’t recognized the change in his movements. He was probably a little bit stiffer last year, but he’s played in a lot of 7-on-7s now and done a lot of work in the offseason,” Lewis said. “I’d match him up, cover-wise, with any of the best linebackers in the country and what’s shocking to me, if you have a cover linebacker now, in today’s spread game … Linebackers have to understand route combinations and that sort of thing, and he already has a really good understanding of that.
“So, right now I’m wondering, ‘Dang, what’s going on?’ ”
Simon, who is ranked No. 42 in the Sentinel’s 2015 Central Florida Super60, moved to the U.S. with his family from Haiti in 2003. He was more of a soccer player and knew nothing about American football.
“I started playing football in the eighth grade and I loved the sport,” Simon said. “My first year playing football, I made the all-star team and that was unbelievable. I was like, ‘This sport can take me somewhere else.’ ”
Many Haitian-born kids, including numerous players in the Orlando area, end up playing football after moving to the U.S. and most of the time it is against their mothers’ wishes. Many Haitian moms do not like the violence of the sport, but Simon said that was not the case for his mother.
“My mom actually loved the idea,” Simon said. “It was my dad. At first, he didn’t want me to play football, so I had to take it upon myself. I want to be someone in life and I want to do it through what God gave me the ability to do, so I went on and played football.”
His natural athleticism is impressive, but he did admit the learning curve was difficult at first. And, of course, he’s still learning the game. He has, however, made incredible strides and his offseason work has paid dividends. Simon has won linebacker MVP honors at four different camps or combines, including Sunday’s NUC Showcase in Orlando.
“It was hard at first, but it became easy because I have picked up the things from the coaches,” Simon said, “Like Coach Lewis, I have learned so much from him, things that he says players in college have not even learned yet.”
He certainly knows how to tackle. So just how is it that a guy can average 15 tackles per game?
“I’m very aggressive and I try to be dominant as much as I can. That’s just how I play,” Simon said. “I go after the ball. I’m the type of player who is always very hungry for the tackle. I’ll go across the field to make the tackle … anywhere.”
And so he waits, but he’s sure colleges will finally start to take note.
“I also have the grades too, so I really don’t understand why I’m not getting any offers,” Simon said. “But everything works in God’s time, so I just wait for the right time. When the right one comes, I will commit and go from there.
“I’m not stressing about it. I’ll play football somewhere.”
And when he sees other area linebackers rack up offers, he remains humble.
“They probably deserve it more than me,” he said.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting, and on Instagram at os_recruiting.