AJ Simpkins rising to every challenge


AJ Simpkins rising to every challenge

AJ Simpkins is preparing to play for the powerhouse Ballantyne Gators in the Charlotte (N.C.) Metro Youth Football League this season.
He is preparing to play for a prolific head coach – Larry Kennedy – who was a four-year starter at defensive back for the University of Florida.
Simpkins is well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.
Not only did the sixth grader finish second in his age group at last month’s Duel in Massillon, Ohio, Simpkins has attended four other NFA camps since February.
“They have definitely improved my mechanics,” Simpkins said. “Before I started going there … I would not be where I am right now without going to NFA.”

Duel success

When he headed to his first Duel in July, Simpkins set his goals high.
“I trained a lot before before going to the competition,” he said. “I was hoping to do really well and my expectations were to get into the finals.”
Doing so well against quarterbacks in his age group from across the country made the trip from North Carolina to Ohio well worth the effort.
“I was pretty excited,” Simpkins said. “It was first time at the Duel. It raises up my expectations for the upcoming season and next year’s Duel. I have a tough coach (Kennedy) and I expect to do better.”
Simpkins is going to be playing QB in a tough league with sixth and seventh graders this year, but he is looking forward to the challenge. “I definitely want to make it into the playoffs,” he said. “I think our team goals would be making the playoffs and winning the team championship. With personal goals, become a better quarterback, make my team better and win some ballgames.”

Arm action

In order to reach those goals, Simpkins turned to NFA for additional help. As a pitcher in baseball, he’s always had the arm to play quarterback.
“Definitely arm strength and accuracy,” Simpkins said when asked about his strengths as a rising young QB. “And I’m able to learn the offense I’m playing in and get it down pretty easily.”
Great quarterbacks are able to identify their shortcomings and make improvements, and Simpkins is working hard to improve his footwork.
“If I get my footwork down, it can make me more accurate, I can get out of my drop faster and I probably get deeper into my drop,” he said. “Also, it would be harder for the defense to get to me.”
This will be Simpkins’ third full season at quarterback, and there is little doubt he’s playing the right position.
“Playing quarterback, I love being the leader on the team, and I just think it’s really fun,” Simpkins said. “I enjoy being able to be a part of the play each time. I get to touch the ball every play and that’s something I really enjoy doing.”


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Scot Gregor is an award-winning sportswriter for the Chicago Daily Herald. In addition to writing about Big 10 and Notre Dame football, Gregor has also covered the White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and college basketball. He grew up in Pittsburgh and watched the Steelers rise to prominence in the 1970s. Gregor has a B.S. degree in Journalism from Ohio University