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DeCock: Duke lineman Simmons engineers his way to head of class

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com

DURHAM Some days, Perry Simmons keeps a spare set of clothes in the locker room at the far end of Duke’s practice field, the one visiting teams use on game days, so he can change quickly and get to class. Other days, there’s a golf cart waiting to whisk him away to class after practice, sometimes before it even ends.

On a schedule as tight as the one Simmons keeps, it makes a difference. Not only is the senior offensive lineman from Raleigh one of only a handful of scholarship players at Duke to pursue an engineering degree in the past decade, the three-time Academic All-ACC selection was also one of 16 football players from across the country selected this week as National Scholar-Athletes.

Simmons is the fourth Duke player honored, joining former teammate Sean Renfree last season.

“Being at a school like Duke, everybody’s got something going on, something extracurricular,” said Simmons, who is majoring in civil engineering. “But with football, you’re exhausted after you’re done with practice for the day. You have to find a way to motivate yourself and keep on doing the hard work you need to do to take care of things in the classroom.”

A Special Game

As the Blue Devils prepare to host N.C. State on Saturday, the game takes on special significance for Simmons. He grew up a Wolfpack fan and dreamed of playing there, because his father Brette was an N.C. State assistant coach for the first nine years of Perry’s life. But he was fired along with Mike O’Cain in 1999 after 12 years there, which abruptly ended Simmons’ fandom.

Simmons ended up starring at Sanderson, where N.C. State showed some interest but never offered a scholarship. Navy and East Carolina did, but the combination of Duke’s academics and new coach David Cutcliffe’s sales pitch about building the program caught his attention.

The latter has been accomplished, with back-to-back bowl berths secured and the Blue Devils looking for their first seven-win season since 1994 (when Duke went 8-4) on Saturday. That turnaround might actually have been an easier task than combining big-time football and big-time engineering.

“I’m an intelligent person, but my brain doesn’t work like that,” tight end Braxton Deaver said. “With the stress of football and everything that’s going on, it takes a special person to do what he does.”

Tackling a Big Load

Some schools will flat-out tell football players not to even bother attempting it, and even at Duke, few have. Simmons has done it while starting 45 consecutive games at right tackle, the longest active streak in the ACC, and maintaining a 3.83 GPA.

“Perry has always had a plan,” Cutcliffe said. “Everybody has goals. Perry has a plan. He’s an engineer. He engineered his plan.”

Redshirting as a freshman helped, allowing him to spread four years of classwork over five years. So this fall, he’s taking Civil and Environmental Engineering 423L, Metallic Structures, which Duke’s course catalog describes as “Design of tension, compression, and flexural members. Bolted and welded connections.”

He’s only taking two other classes, in architecture and art history, but the workload he assumes still astonishes his teammates.

“In the locker room, he’s got a book in his hand,” Deaver said. “On the plane, the bus, he’s doing homework. Because he understands the tasks that he has to do along with football.”

“A lot of times I see Perry, he’s either studying, or on his way to study, or on his way to class,” defensive lineman Justin Foxx said.

The combined workload between football and engineering has been so strenuous that Simmons even had to go elsewhere to take a summer class just to stay on pace. The class was Engineering Dynamics. The school? N.C. State.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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