By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Jerry Paul Simon is all too familiar with this emotion.
Around Christmas, he called his first grandson in tears after hearing Rowdy Simon had earned all-state in football — something that eluded both granddad and son, Joe Paul Simon, the first two in a generation of three linebackers at Vian.
“I’m at a Target in Tulsa with my mom,” Rowdy said. “He was like ‘we didn’t, you did and he was crying and I got to crying right there in the middle of the store.’”
Those tears came back to Jerry Paul’s eyes when he and his son were the first to hear that Rowdy Simon had been selected by the Phoenix sports staff as the 2013 Male Athlete of the Year.
“I got a glimpse of this when he was in junior high, maybe even late in grade school,” Jerry Paul said. “He had to work harder than everyone. It wasn’t just good enough to be good. He wanted to be the best.”
And he was.
This fall, he won the Phoenix Small School Defensive Player of the Year award for the third consecutive year with 132 tackles for a team that reached the Class 2A semifinals. He also rushed for 1,388 yards and 25 touchdowns — an average of 13.1 yards per carry while also seeing limited duty in the second half of many regular season blowout wins. Had there been a combined offense and defense honor, he’d won that the last two years, but the selection rules prohibit dual wins in its current format. He was fourth in the team MVP voting.
Rowdy was also a state runner-up in wrestling, losing 3-1 to Heritage Hall’s Finn Higgins in the 3A 182-pound finale in February. This spring, he led his team in batting average and home runs and was no worse than second in every other offensive category for a team that went 34-3 and lost in the Class 3A finals.
And yet, Rowdy isn’t one who totes his star power on his sleeves.
“When these letters from colleges began showing up, he would hide them until he got home from school because he was just uncomfortable with that kind of attention,” Joe Paul said.
“As long as I have known him,” Vian baseball coach John Brockman, “he’s been about team. He’d just as soon everyone else get the glory.”
That’s why he was “so pumped” back in the fall when the guy who blocked for him the past four years, Rob Boyd, became the first offensive lineman to win an offensive player honor on the All-Phoenix team.
“Some people may have been bitter about an OL getting it, but not him,” Boyd recalled recently. “He hugged my neck and told me how proud of me he was. As I will do for him for getting this award. I can’t think of someone more deserving.
“If you look up team in the dictionary his picture should be beside it.”
Linebacking skills weren’t the only thing Rowdy inherited, notes Brandon Tyler, the Wolverines’ football coach.
“A lot of parents want to make excuses for their kids instead of making them bust their butts to be the best they can be,” Tyler said. “Everything about him is solid values and solid character.”
“He’s the one among us kids who is the first to do the dishes, the first to do the clothes, almost the parent type,” said Rylee Simon, his brother two grades his junior and teammate the past two years in all sports.
Joe Paul thought his oldest son wasn’t big enough to be much of a standout in football. When Rowdy was in the sixth grade, he started a weight-lifting program for kids.
“He wasn’t the fastest guy and he wasn’t that coordinated,” Joe Paul said. “If you lined everybody up and picked your teams, he wouldn’t have been one of the first picked. Early on Rylee was more athletic and things came easier for him, although he wound up with some health problems that slowed him.”
Rowdy started at running back his freshman year.
“The first game his freshman year we went to Hugo and we had no idea what to expect,” Jerry Paul said. “The first play from scrimmage, he went 78 yards for a touchdown and I’m thinking, maybe all this work he’s put in is going to pay off.”
A lingering shoulder problem came into play. Rowdy originally hurt it his freshman year but never lost any playing time. From time to time his sophomore year he’d pop it out of socket and it became such a problem that in January during his junior year in wrestling, an MRI revealed a torn labium. He underwent surgery.
Unable to throw in time for baseball, he ran track and pulled a hamstring in the state finals while running on one of the relay teams. Not quite the issues Rylee had — which included a cardiac ablation that required surgery earlier this year — but something that slowed him down, something Rowdy never liked.
“It went against everything in his work ethic and attitude about team,” Joe Paul said.
Fully healthy, his senior year was loaded with everything but a championship ring. He signed as a preferred walk-on at Tulsa with hopes of playing with Boyd, who got a scholarship there as an offensive lineman. Joe Paul also played at TU.
Rowdy graduated last week as the class salutatorian — with a 3.9 GPA. He missed perfection because of a typing class.
“I got a zero missing an assignment on a Friday before grades went in and I was never told I could make it up,” he said. “We played Sequoyah that night. I was trying to get over a 103 fever to play and didn’t go to school that day.”
But he aced his senior year — in many ways.
“His lasting impact,” said his wrestling coach, Jason Adams, “is that he made people around him better wherever he went.”