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Keegan Simmons flourishes in Cedar Rapids Prairie's single-wing attack

Punishing running back has made history for No. 9-ranked Hawks

Cedar Rapids Prairie's Keegan Simmons (1) tries to hold off Waukee defenders during a home game earlier this season. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Prairie's Keegan Simmons (1) tries to hold off Waukee defenders during a home game earlier this season. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — They call themselves Keegan’s Krew, and they’re extra special to Keegan Simmons.

“It’s a little section I hear every game,” the Cedar Rapids Prairie senior said. “They’re always there supporting me and the rest of my team. I’m really grateful for that.”

Keegan’s Krew is an amalgam of family members and friends, and there are a lot of them. They’re loud, and they’re proud of their guy.

They even surprised Simmons’ mom, Amber, this fall by having T-shirts made. The Krew wears them each game.

Certainly they’ll be in full force and full dress Friday night as the ninth-ranked Hawks take on No. 8 Johnston in the first round of the Class 4A football playoffs.

They’ve had a ton to cheer for these past two seasons. Prairie has won a lot of games, and Simmons has gained a lot of yards as one of the state’s best running backs.

“Growing up, I never thought I would run the ball,” Simmons said. “But in sixth or seventh grade, I tried it, and I just stuck to it, either as a receiver, running back or quarterback. My freshman year, that’s when it all really started. Coach Bliss came in, saw me and wanted to develop me more as a running back, that type of physical running back.

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“I like the ground-and-pound game. When I have to use my speed to get around you, I’ll use it. But I really like contact. I think that is what football is all about.”

Coach Bliss is Prairie head coach Mark Bliss, and he’s been around the block a few times. He has coached at high schools in multiple states, mentored a Super Bowl champion (defensive lineman Vincent Valentine of the 2017 New England Patriots) and another kid who played back at Kansas State (Darrin Seiwert).

Simmons ranks right up there with anyone he’s had.

Keegan Simmons' 2017 highlights

“The thing about Keegan is that he’s probably the most hard-nosed, physical running back I’ve ever coached,” Bliss said. “He has just enough fast twitch to where he can usually make the first guy miss if you’re ever in space. He’s not a 4.4 kid, by any means, but he’s a football player. What I mean by that is he carries his pads really well. When he’s in the open, if he can outrun you, he outruns you. But if he can’t outrun you, he usually tries to find a way to punish you before he goes to the ground.

“That’s just his style, and it’s unique. But it has worked for him the last two years.”

Simmons rushed for 1,822 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, topping his own single-season school record this fall with 1,910 yards and 25 TDs. He’s an absolute load at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, a violent runner.

That’s a compliment, by the way.

“There’s no question there has never been a Keegan Simmons in the history of Prairie High School, and I don’t think anything like him, in the near future, coming in,” Bliss said. “He’s a very special breed, and he’s going to go on and do bigger and better things in life. I think he’ll be a great running back for somebody.”

Simmons gives kudos to Bliss for helping develop him and to his offensive line for his yards. Prairie runs a unique single-wing type of offense with a lot of unbalanced line and misdirection that has been a perfect fit.

“Coach Bliss does a great job of writing up plays and blocking schemes for our offensive line,” Simmons said. “Those guys do a great job up front, and I will always credit them ... A lot of plays Coach Bliss writes up are to trick the defense. What makes our offense so special is that you have to take awhile to scheme for it. It gets you thinking a lot, is just really hard to game plan against, because you don’t know who the ball is going to.”

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Despite his gaudy numbers, college recruiters have not exactly been beating down Simmons’ door. The only FCS scholarship offer he has is from Northern Iowa, with Iowa and Iowa State saying they are continuing to evaluate him.

Someone is going to get a good player with some upside.

“I’m going to be blessed regardless of what happens,” Simmons said. “I got that offer early from UNI, a full ride, and if it comes down to me going there, that’s great. It’s a free education, and I couldn’t be any more blessed. I’ve always wanted to play college football my whole life. Wherever the road takes me, I’m going to be happy regardless. I’m going to get to play the game I love.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

 

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