TEMPE – It’s what they’ve done every game during their senior seasons. The three captains walk out together, meet at the edge of Tillman Tunnel, bring their heads together and relish the moment.
Mike Bercovici, D.J. Foster and Jordan Simone did this ritual for the last time before Saturday’s Territorial Cup. But they didn’t imagine it would be like this – Bercovici and Foster in pads, while Simone carried his crutches.
“We just come together, and we live in the moment for that brief period of time. We just tell each other we love each other,” Simone said. “As corny as it may sound, those are my best friends. We live in that moment for a second, just enjoying it. That’s something that I’ll remember forever.”
The redshirt senior safety’s collegiate career came to an end during the Sun Devils’ 27-17 come-from-behind victory against Washington on November 14. Simone’s right knee collided with a helmet while he was making a tackle. After the play he pounded on the grass on Frank Kush Field – he had torn his ACL.
“My heart goes out to him,” head coach Todd Graham said. “It was a play that was such a – it always is like that – it was just a freak play. It was just a very unusual play how he got hurt.”
Before the injury, Simone was first nationally with 7.8 solo tackles per game. He had gone a long way since joining the program as a walk-on back in 2012.
“I did have a couple of days there where I was starting to feel sorry for myself,” Simone said. “If I felt sorry for myself when I was a walk-on, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s just another bump in the road, and something I can overcome.”
Simone finished his Sun Devil career with 191 tackles, four interceptions and five sacks in just two seasons, but he won’t just be remembered as a guy that racked up tackles. He’ll be remembered as one of the most vocal leaders Arizona State has had in the Todd Graham era. In Saturday’s 52-37 win over Arizona, Simone put on a headset to help out the secondary.
“He’s phenomenal. He was talking to them in between every series…he was very much involved, and was a great asset to those guys during the game,” Graham said. “Jordan does a great job. He even works on me a little bit, just keeping me calm too. He’s the only one that will say anything to me when I’m mad.”
Off the field Simone leads by example, especially with his roommates.
“Man, if people only knew half of the preparation that that kid does,” Bercovici said. “I’ve lived with him for quite awhile now. The kid eats, sleeps and breathes Arizona State football. He goes to sleep about 8:30 at night. We make sure that there’s quiet hours when we’re in season.”
Even though Simone won’t be putting on the pads for the Sun Devils again, he is still a source of inspiration for them.
“He’s been my favorite person I’ve watched play football in my entire life,” Bercovici said.
Simone has opted not to have surgery on his injured knee until after the regular season is over. He wants to embrace the last moments of the Sun Devils’ season.
“I want to be there with my guys on the last game. I thought about getting the surgery this week, but I just couldn’t sit on the couch and watch my boys play and not be there and be able to help,” Simone said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Graham said that these types of injuries can break the spirit of players – but that’s not the case with Simone.
“He’ll respond from this and recover from this like the champion that he is. He could be like moping around, and just down and depressed. I haven’t seen any of that,” Graham said. “I’ve seen him fully participating just like he was healthy, and that tell you a lot about him. He’s a champ in every way and he’ll recover and rehab from this thing.”
Simone said the injury is just a minor setback for him. He still aspires to make it to the NFL.
“I just want to be remembered as a guy that gave everything he had for his teammates and his coaches. A passionate football player that loves the game,” Simone said. “It’s something that is a part of my story and is going to be a part of my journey.
“I’m ready to put in the hard work and get better. I’ll get a chance at the next level and I’ll make it.”
The Sun Devils have one last regular season game as they travel to take on Cal on Saturday. Simone plans on running out of the tunnel with his best friends, like he’s always done. Relishing the moment.