In 20 years at Archbishop (New York) Stepinac High School, Mike O’Donnell had never had a player offered a scholarship before his senior season.That was until Donnie Simmons, a 17-year-old speedy defensive lineman, grew into his frame and started garnering early interest from colleges. Simmons received an offer from Akron and also attracted Ohio, but ended up committing to Syracuse before playing his way to all-league and all-state honors as a senior.“Donnie helped put us on the map more of being a football program and since then, more and more kids are going to play in college,” O’Donnell said. “Since then, we got kids to want to come to the school because of the level of football we’re playing. I think Donnie was a pioneer for us.”Of the kids who’ve benefited since Simmons graduated in 2010, one will play his first college game against Simmons and Syracuse when Rhode Island visits the Carrier Dome at 7 p.m. on Friday. Dwayne Scott, a freshman offensive lineman for the Rams, was a standout at Archbishop Stepinac and was inspired by Simmons and his state championship-winning team.And while it’s unlikely that Scott will see the field and find himself blocking Simmons — who is expected to be a Week 1 starter for the first time in his five-year career — he’ll be in the same building as the player who helped pave his football future.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We always said it, ‘We want to be like that 2010 team,’” Scott said. “It’s hard to put into words how good they were. We knew it and guys like Donnie, he pushed us to put in work.”Simmons and Scott are completely opposite players. At 6 feet, 2 inches and 264 pounds, Simmons uses speed around the edge to mask his small frame for a defensive end. At 6 feet, 2 inches and 304 pounds, Scott uses strength first and is always polishing his athleticism. Simmons’ goal is to run around players. Scott’s goal is to hold them in front of him.But their high school selves shared the common goal of playing college football, and Simmons visited White Plains, New York during breaks and told Scott and his teammates what the experience at Syracuse was like. The training, the facilities, the competition — Scott and his teammates sat around the weight room and listened intently to Simmons’ stories.Then Simmons would work out with the team, and Scott saw what it took to be a D-I football player.“Any time you get to work with a college player and you’re in high school, it can only make you better,” Scott said. “When Donnie came back to work out those times, you saw what it took.”On Friday, Simmons’and Scott’s paths will converge before they go entirely separate ways.After redshirting as a freshman and then missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL, Simmons sees 2015 as his chance to finally prove what he can do. Scott, on the other hand, is joining an offensive line that returned four starters and seven players with college playing experience. It will be the beginning of the end for Simmons, and the beginning of it all for Scott.For both of them, it all took root with Simmons’ success.“I tried my best to lead the way, so others could implement that same mindset to achieve great things,” Simmons said. “Not just staying at one level, just going for that highest peak and the best of your ability.” Comments Published on September 1, 2015 at 10:59 pm Contact Jesse: firstname.lastname@example.org | @dougherty_jesse Facebook Twitter Google+
MORE: Need an upset pick? Oregon, Saint Louis look like bracket bustersSouth Region: No. 13 UC Irvine. The Big West is not a league of heavyweights, but there was something about the way the Anteaters dominated their championship game that against Cal State Fullerton that ought to have NCAA opponent Kansas State concerned. (There’s also something about that nickname: Anteaters). UCI won road games at Texas A&M and Saint Mary’s, so one cannot accurately say the Anteaters’ 30-5 record is purely the product of a suspect conference. This is not a great offensive team, ranking 125th in efficiency with a leading scorer, Max Hazzard, getting 12.5 points per game. By the way: Hazzard’s grandfather is the late UCLA legend, Walt Hazzard.West Region: No. 7 Nevada. It was rather surprising to see this once-fearsome offense limited to just 56 points and 6-of-24 3-point shooting by a San Diego State defense the Wolf Pack punished for 81 points just a week earlier. We saw what they were capable of in their comebacks against Texas and Cincinnati in last year’s tournament. They still could shoot their way into prominence, though one wonders if Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline — all averaging 32 minutes or more — might be a bit out of gas. Perhaps losing in the Mountain West semis gave them the break they need. SN’s MARCH MADNESS HQPrintable bracket | Predictor tool | Best bracket names | TicketsMarch Madness bracket predictionsUpset alertEast Region: No. 9 UCF over No. 8 VCU. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen UCF 7-6 center Tacko Fall how thoroughly he wrecks the game for Knights opponents. His vast presence makes challenging the rim impossible at times, forcing teams to rely more heavily on the 3-point shot. This is not good news for the Rams, who rank near the bottom of Division I in 3-point offense. Now, VCU certainly can force an opponent into turnovers, and that’s what they’ll have to do to UCF. That way, they can race down for layups before Fall is in the neighborhood to reject their shots.South Region: No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin. In a matchup against a lesser coach, Wisconsin’s uncommon style might allow the Badgers to grind their way through this one and maybe into the Sweet 16. But Dana Altman is not a lesser coach. He is only two years removed from a Final Four and rescued this Ducks team from possible oblivion to direct them through the Pac-12 Tournament for an automatic NCAA bid. The Ducks are a dynamic group and they have a reliable, proven guard in Payton Pritchard. The Badgers’ shooting has been too sporadic of late, dropping them all the way to 52nd in the nation in offense.SN’s BRACKET PICKS:Mike DeCourcy’s expert bracket, predictionsBill Bender’s expert bracket, predictionsRyan Fagan’s expert bracket, predictionsMidwest Region: No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Wofford. This is one region the committee seemed to balance well. But if you have to make a call, it would be feasible to see Seton Hall become another high-major squad to handle the Terriers. It seemed at first this might be cheating the category a bit, that the seeding might be countered by Vegas making the Pirates the betting favorite. In fact, Wofford is giving 3 points. The Terriers have come a long way in a short time.West Region: No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette. The Racers are far from an elite defensive team, but this will be an important showcase for Morant. He has an opportunity to demonstrate that his elite athleticism can translate into elite defense. Howard is the most creative scorer in the tournament, capable of conjuring shots few others can imagine. Morant has the size to frustrate him, if he shows he can defend with great precision and intensity in a game that will demand it.MORE BRACKET TIPS:KenPom | Play the odds | Idiot’s guideSleeper teamsEast Region: No. 4 Virginia Tech. They are not deep into the field, but think about this: The Hokies earned a 4-seed while playing for six weeks without top-notch point guard Justin Robinson, who averages 13.7 points and 5.2 assists and had 35 against Syracuse just a game before he went down with a foot injury. Tech beat Duke without him – yes, the Devils were without Zion, but still — and went 7-5 without him, with two of the losses coming to Florida State in overtime. They might be capable of something special as a complete team.Midwest Region: No. 13 Northeastern. The Huskies are extremely well-coached by Bill Coen, who delivered his third 20-win season in the past five years and is making his second NCAA Tournament appearance of his 13-year tenure. Once part of a loaded staff that included future head coaches Tim O’Shea and Ed Cooley, Coen did a brilliant job in the Colonial Tournament to get the Huskies past a dynamic Hofstra team that was 27-7. This is not a great defensive team, but senior guard Vasa Pusica, a 40-percent 3-point shooter this season who hit seven 3s in the CAA title game, is the kind of player who barges into view in March. It wouldn’t be March Madness without a few bracket-busters. To help keep your 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket somewhat intact, Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy offers up his picks for the upsets and sleeper teams to watch out for in each region. You’ve been warned.Bonus: Check out each region preview linked below for Final Four picks, star players to watch and more.