Cedar Rapids Prairie's Keegan Simmons powers his way to big season

Hawks junior running back approaches school rushing record

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Keegan Simmons set his sights on a personal goal this season.

He reminded himself of that feat each time he attended strength and conditioning training, looking at Cedar Rapids Prairie’s all-time football leaders posted near the weight room.

“After weight lifting on Mondays and Wednesdays, I’ll go take a look at the records out there in the hall and think to myself that’s my goal,” Simmons said of the single-season rushing yards mark held by former Hawk all-stater Joe Meyer. “I’m really excited. First, I have to give it to my line, because they’ve done a great job and that’s all I can ask for.”

Simmons has amassed 1,502 yards on the ground through the first eight weeks, helping the 10th-ranked Hawks to a 7-1 record and regular-season finale against Cedar Rapids Kennedy (6-2) on Friday at John Wall Field. Both enter with a 3-1 district mark and the winner is Class 4A District 8 runner-up and postseason qualifier.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound running back needs just 17 yards to surpass Meyer’s mark. He established himself as a physical ball carrier immediately, rushing for most of his 138 yards in the second half of a 21-20 season-opening victory over Cedar Rapids Washington.

“He’s been a true blessing for us this year,” Prairie Coach Mark Bliss said. “I’m very proud of his efforts and what he’s done.”

Bliss recognized the potential that Simmons possessed, watching him put up similar statistics at the sophomore level. The transition to varsity went smoothly, fitting in to Prairie’s single-wing attack.

“We knew what we had coming up with him,” Bliss said of Simmons. “He’s a little bit bigger and stronger since last year. We expected him to do some things this year.

“He’s been resilient. He’s been very absorbing and has done everything we’ve asked him to do.”

The Hawks have asked him to carry the largest share of the offense, especially after a broken leg in Week 3 sidelined versatile senior Levi Usher. Simmons accepted the additional touches.

“I knew I had to step up, as well as my teammates,” Simmons said. “I really think we’ve been doing that this season.”

Simmons averages 23 carries per game, toting the ball a season-high 29 times in a win over Davenport Central. He also tallied a season-high 217 yards, which is one of three times he has topped the 200-yard rushing plateau. Simmons has added 92 receiving yards on 10 catches, including a 10-yard TD against top-ranked Iowa City West.

His punishing style has led to 187.75 yards per game, a healthy 8.2 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns. Simmons likes the feel of decking a defender or carrying a couple for extra yardage.

“I think I’m mostly a power runner,” said Simmons, who is among the state’s rushing leaders. “I like contact.

“I like smash-mouth football, running inside or outside. It’s just my game.”

Simmons’ game was aided by becoming an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier. He has matured physically and has been a consistent visitor to the weight room since last November, according to Bliss. The work in the offseason has fueled his style that has worn down opposing defenses late in games.

“We had a lot of summer workouts,” Simmons said. “There was of weightlifting, drills and camps. I really have been working hard. Hopefully, next season I gain another 10 pounds.”

Bliss said Simmons runs with a toughness that prevents him from being down with one hit. He said it is a natural trait that can’t be coached, but he has developed patience as a rusher, which has elevated his game.

“I think he’s done a better job of reading his blocks,” Bliss said. “Early in the season, sometimes he’d make his own hole and try to drag people. He’s done a nice job of setting his blocks better as the season progressed.”

The Hawks have produced 2,726 rushing yards. Much of that has come from the tandem of Simmons and senior Braxton Zimmerman, who has 729 yards on 73 carries with six scores. Their contrast in styles make for an effective combination that causes defenses fits.

“They’ve done a nice job of complementing each other,” Bliss said. “Those two guys are a nice 1-2 punch.”

For the second straight season, Prairie and Kennedy will face off in a Week 9 game with major playoff implications. Last year, Kennedy needed to win by a large margin to reach the postseason. Prairie defeated the Cougars, 40-28, for the district title and snapped Kennedy’s 11-year playoff streak.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Bliss said. “Hopefully, we can find a way to neutralize some of their strengths and give our kids a chance.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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