IOWA CITY, Ia. – Kirk Ferentz calls them good stories, and Iowa's football coach loves to share them.
Stories about his players overcoming the odds, or turning in breakout seasons. Tales of persistence. Which brings us to Eric Simmons.
The fifth-year senior from Madrid has taken the long road to Iowa's two-deep, where he's listed as the starting left guard and backup center. Simmons saw action in all 12 games as a special-teams member last season. But he's seen action on the line of scrimmage in just three games – one last season, two as a sophomore.
"People come in here and are two-, three- and even four-year starters," Simmons said. "I haven't done that. This is a good shot to get the starting position."
Ferentz has had a lot of players take advantage of their final opportunity. Tommy Gaul is a perfect example. The senior got his break in the sixth game last season when Jordan Walsh was injured on Iowa's first possession of the game. Center Austin Blythe was moved to right guard to replace Walsh. Gaul stepped in at center and started the rest of the season.
"You hear about some of the good players in the past," Simmons said. "Maybe they had a good guy in front of them, or they didn't maximize their opportunity. I'm just blessed to be at the point where I'm at, and to have stuck it out."
Simmons was a three-time Class A all-state lineman at Madrid, then headed to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. He earned all-conference honors there, signed with Iowa and enrolled in January to get a head start on his Division I career. And now it could be a rewarding final chapter.
"Sometimes, the gains he made were really minuscule. Sometimes they were a bit more dramatic," offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. "But he's continued to improve daily. There have been ups and downs. I've been mad at him. And he's been mad at me, I'm sure. But I think we've gotten to a place now where he has really taken another step, and we're starting to see four years of work paying off for him."
Playing more than one position in the line, which Blythe did last season, is a very difficult thing to do. "It's a lot harder than people think it is," Brian Ferentz said.
Whether Simmons has the flexibility to play two positions will be determined this fall.
"I think I'm more confident in answering the question, 'Is he ready to play? than 'Is he flexible?'" Brian Ferentz said. "I think he's ready to play. What he needs to do is demonstrate the consistency that we need. I fully anticipate him doing that."
Guard or center, Simmons doesn't have a preference.
"As long as I have my hand in the dirt, really," Simmons said.
Instant gratification. That's today's buzzword. But it's not the reality of college football.
"We live in a world where kids just expect things to happen overnight," Brian Ferentz said. "And that's not the way it works. And if you're going to be good at anything, it's going to take some time, and you're going to have to develop and take some lumps along the way."
Who knows? Maybe Simmons will become one of those feel-good stories Kirk Ferentz loves to talk about.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.