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irish insider

Shayne Simon proves himself through perseverance

| Friday, November 13, 2020

College football locker rooms across the country are filled with great high school players who never manage to find their place at the next level. Shayne Simon was almost one of them. But ask Simon about his career at Notre Dame, you won’t hear any whispers of has beens and let downs. Rather, he considers himself a missing piece, ready to find his place in this Irish defense. This past Saturday, the junior linebacker from West Orange, New Jersey did just that.

Against No. 1-ranked Clemson, Simon was a force to be reckoned with, tallying four solo tackles against the Tigers and consistently finding himself in the center of the action among a stalwart Irish defense.

For the casual fan who just tuned into Saturday’s game, it might be hard to believe but Simon’s rise within the Irish defense has been anything but smooth.

Coming out of St. Peters Prep, Simon was a four-star recruit filled with promise to be an early contributor. While Boston College was the first school to offer him, he eventually chose the Irish and joined then newly-appointed defensive coordinator Clark Lea in South Bend. While he appeared in a total of 19 games through his first two seasons, he struggled to distinguish himself in the lineup and seemed to be another highly touted recruit that never quite reached his potential under head coach Brian Kelly. Just as he was starting to find his rhythm, having recorded a career-high four tackles against Navy, Simon went down with a dislocated patella in the midst of Notre Dame’s 52-20 win over Navy.

Simon described this point in his career as being filled with a “lot of dark days,” but credited his hope for a comeback this season as being his inspiration for continued rehabilitation of his knee.

“Everything kind of hurt for a while … but you kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel and you start getting better and better,” Simon said.

By June when the team returned to campus for the offseason, Simon was eager to get on the field.

“I was able to move fully and do everything I had to do,” Simon said. “I realized that I’m back here. I’m ready to play.”

Simon’s rehabilitation didn’t stop at the knee. In an effort to return to the field at his fullest ability, Simon committed to a philosophy of stress relief known as mental performance training.

“It allows you to think about certain things at certain time and to not have your head filled with all the outside noise,” Simon said. “Definitely helped me just set where I’m ready to be at, make sure I’m in a spot where I’m at right now and playing.”

With his body back to full force, Simon has capitalized on this season as an upperclassmen, applying his experience and renewed dedication to the game and making significant contributions on the defensive end.

“I’m trying to stick to my training system — watch film, play hard in practice and just continue to get better and better,” he said.

His perseverance over the past two years, overcoming injuries and disappointment paid off in the biggest game of Simon’s career. Four solo tackles — one for loss — and two pass breakups were just the start of it. In a game that ultimately came down to a dominant defensive stand in two overtimes, time and time again Simon was disrupting the Clemson offense.

“We look to the negative plays on the first and second down to hopefully get longer third down,” he said. “And at that point, it’s just the killer mentality to go out and we have to finish the job and our third down defense.”

Simon said the combination of the crowd and momentum on the field created an unrivaled energy against the Tigers.

“Whenever we get a negative yard snap, we all get juiced up or hyped up. And that really plays into our energy level and allows us to get back out there and keep trying to get stops,” he said. “Everything else was glorified a little bit.”

While nearly any other player might relish the performance Simon had against the Tigers, he’s not own to waver from the task at hand — finishing the season undefeated.

“It was definitely a fun game to play in. Huge atmosphere which you dream about playing, it’s why you come to Notre Dame to play in these big-time games,” Simon said. “But I have a lot more to prove a lot more to play for. And I’m looking forward to doing that.”

His next chance to prove that he’s here to stay will come this Saturday against Boston College and former teammate Phil Jurkovec. Simon said he still considers Jurkovec a part of their class and knows he’ll keep the defense on their toes with a diverse skillset.

“As you look at him on film as an opponent, he’s a gunslinger,” Simon said. “Phil loves a deep ball, he’s trying to make plays, and he’s a big-body quarterback, so you can try to escape out of the pocket or be creative. Phil has the athletic ability. … So he’s obviously athletic and able to make plays. So that’s we see most of that out of him — he’s a baller.”

With a rehabilitated knee, newfound confidence and deep understanding of his opponent, it’s Shayne Simon time.

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