FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Matt Simms just wanted an opportunity to keep playing football.
So, when he picked up the phone and the New York Jets offered him a tryout, he jumped at the chance. Then, he had to explain it to all of his cringing buddies.
“My good friend growing up who I played high school football with was a die-hard Giants fan and he was very upset — for a moment,” the youngest son of former Giants star quarterback Phil Simms said with a smile. “I told him to look past that and now he finally supports me.”
After stints playing quarterback at Louisville, El Camino College and finally Tennessee, Simms is at Jets rookie minicamp this weekend unsure what the next stop in his football journey will be.
“Obviously, I’m just super-excited to be here and it being a hometown team, especially, makes it that much more special,” said Simms, from nearby Franklin Lakes, N.J. “It’s a little strange for a lot of my friends since it is the Jets, but I told them that it doesn’t matter.”
And, he’s not alone as a player in camp trying to follow in famous footsteps.
Joining Simms are a pair of former Penn State teammates: fullback Joe Suhey, whose father Matt blocked for Walter Payton with the Chicago Bears, and cornerback D’Anton Lynn, whose dad Anthony helped the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles and is currently the Jets’ running backs coach.
While they kept a relatively low profile during the first two days of rookie camp, it’s hard to miss Simms. From the blond hair to the zip on his passes, he resembles his father as well as his older brother Chris, a former NFL quarterback now coaching with the New England Patriots.
“The thing that you’re impressed with immediately is how he can throw the football,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said Saturday. “I mean, he definitely has a great arm. He can really spin it. … Obviously, he’s got the pedigree.”
Simms went to Louisville on a scholarship and saw limited action as a freshman, appearing in just two games. He left the Cardinals after one season and headed to El Camino in Southern California, where he led the team to a league title and threw for 2,204 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His next stop was Tennessee, where he started eight games as a junior but just two as a senior.
“This game, in general, is going to take you for a loop every now and then,” Simms said. “You’re going to go through a lot of different things and it’s going to be hard to adjust to different scenarios. I am fortunate that I did have my brother and my father. They have tremendous knowledge of the game and they’re a great support system. Their help has really guided me through this process, even though it has been difficult at times.”
He worked out for the Giants before the draft and threw to Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, but didn’t think he’d get an opportunity with the team his father helped win a Super Bowl. So, Simms went undrafted and then unsigned, receiving a chance to try out for the Jets — with no guarantees.
His chances of catching on with the Jets are slim, considering they’ve already got Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy on the roster, and they signed former Tulsa star G.J. Kinne as an undrafted free agent. That doesn’t faze Simms.
“It’s just survival, and see what happens,” he said. “I just want to keep playing the game I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and wherever that is, I would love to do it.”
That’s exactly Suhey’s approach to the three-day camp that ends Sunday. Like Simms, he’s in camp on a tryout basis hoping to make his own mark.
“I said, ‘Look, if you’re half as good as your Dad, you’ll be here,’ because his Dad was a great player,” Ryan said.
Suhey grew up hearing all about how his father was a big part of the Bears’ offense in the 1980s, but didn’t feel any pressure to be like him. He even went to Penn State, his father’s alma mater, and played the same position.
“He’s just Dad,” Suhey said. “It’s nothing crazy. You hear things and see people come up to him on the street and that kind of stuff, but it was nothing unusual.”
Suhey was there, as was Lynn, as Penn State was rocked last season by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno’s firing and the longtime coach’s subsequent death.
“You just didn’t expect it, and you almost don’t know what to think when you’re in it, and you still don’t know what to think about it now,” Suhey said. “For the situation our team was put in, we kind of stood up and handled it and did the best we could with it as a team.”
Added Lynn: “It was definitely crazy during that time.”
Suhey’s position coach in Jets camp is Lynn’s father, a former backup running back and special teamer. These days, the elder Lynn is on the opposite side of the field while his son tries to earn a spot in Ryan’s secondary.
“My Dad and I were joking about this: When we’re out there at practice, I forget that he’s out there,” D’Anton Lynn said. “It doesn’t even cross my mind at all because everything’s so fast-paced and my head’s kind of spinning right now.”
Lynn had a solid college career, but his senior season was marked by a concussion — after which he was carted off the field and missed a few games — and a calf injury that hobbled him in the Senior Bowl and NFL combine. He went undrafted and weighed his options. That’s when the Jets called.
“I definitely didn’t pick the Jets because my father was here,” Lynn said. “Coach Ryan actually called me and asked me if it would be weird, and if it was, he wanted me to go somewhere else because he wasn’t sure if I would want to come here with my Dad being here.”
Lynn talked with his agent and they decided the Jets would be a good fit, and he signed with New York as an undrafted free agent. Ryan has worked him at cornerback, nickel back and safety this weekend.
“They just said I need to find a role,” Lynn said. “I’m also trying to get as many reps on special teams that I can just so I can find any role that’s out there to make the team.”
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