Linebacker John Simon’s first two college seasons with the Ohio State Buckeyes went very well, as the team posted records of 11-2 in 2009 and 13-1 in 2010. However, after the 2010 season, things started to get troublesome for Simon. The 6-foot 1-inch, 252-pound Youngstown, Ohio, native was accused of being part of a group of players who received gifts or services in exchange for Buckeye memorabilia. Despite his innocence, Simon’s name was sullied on well-known websites, radio and TV programs.
This disheartening experience helped to deepen Simon’s trust in God, as it did for many other Ohio State players. A good number of those who previously showed no interest in matters of faith started asking questions, while some of those who had been casual believers ramped up their interest.
Simon also used the adversity of 2011 as motivation to excel personally. He finished that season with first team All-Big Ten honors, as he did again in 2012. He was also named 2012’s Big-Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
These credentials caught the attention of the Baltimore Ravens, who picked Simon in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Simon spent his time with the Super Bowl XLVII champions learning as much as he could from some of the best players in the game. Now he is attempting to make the playoffs with the Houston Texans after joining them in October of this year.
John Simon, who attended Youngstown’s football-famed Cardinal Mooney High School, recently spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
You joined the Texans in early October. What do you think of your experience with the team so far, and what do you expect from the rest of the season?
It’s been a pretty good season so far, but you can’t take any game in the NFL for granted; you’re always going to have tough opposition, so you have to do the best you can, every play of every game. Two games ago, we beat the Cleveland Browns 23-7, but in our most recent game, we lost to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals 23-13. We’re now 5-6 and still in the playoff hunt, so it will be fun to see what happens during the remainder of the season.
You were drafted out of Ohio State University in 2013 by the Baltimore Ravens, which had won the Super Bowl earlier that year. What was it like, not only to be drafted into the NFL, but by the team that had recently won it all?
Being selected by the Ravens was a great honor for me. There I was, among some of the best players in the game, and it was a fantastic experience. I was able to pick the brains of great players on a day-to-day basis. I not only asked questions about what to do in certain situations, but I got the answers. People were always happy to help out with any game-related questions I had.
I found the Ravens to have a lot of selfless players who taught me, in various ways, two main things: 1) you have to take care of your body and 2) you have to learn how to see clearly and respond quickly to situations on the field.
The first thing is fairly obvious, since if your body isn’t working, you won’t be working. You have to eat properly, workout with a purpose and under control, and you have to rest properly. The second thing may not be so obvious, but in order to be successful in the NFL, you need to rise above mere athletic ability. You have to know what to look for during games and then swiftly do the right thing.
Learning to be a better football player is something I truly value about my experience with the Ravens. The team has a lot of good people and I expect to keep in touch with many of them for years to come.
Have you always taken the faith seriously?
My family would always go to Mass on Sundays, but for most of my young life, I saw that as a hassle. I just didn’t understand the importance of what was going on. I had a selfish mindset of ‘What can I get out of this?’ that, thanks be to God, changed at Cardinal Mooney High School. I started to realize that life wasn’t about me getting stuff, but accepting what Jesus had done for me on the cross. The emphasis was on him and what he has done, while I was supposed to live out his saving action.
In high school, I had a revelation about how my mindset should be shifted from getting things to accepting God’s grace. I started praising and thanking God for the many blessings I already had, instead of looking for material things outside of me. I started enjoying life more because I had a greater sense of God’s importance and my own insignificance.
Since we’re constantly in need of God’s help, we still need prayers of petition, but they should be mostly about getting the strength to do God’s will, rather than getting specific material objects or goals. The main thing is just doing what the Lord expects of us, regardless of where we might be or what things we might have.
Was there a difficult time that your faith got you through?
There have been many tough times in my life, but they probably aren’t all that tough when compared with what others have gone though. Maybe the toughest thing was heading into my junior year at Ohio State, when there was a scandal over some players getting tattoos and other things by signing autographs or trading team memorabilia. My name appeared on several well-known sports websites, radio and TV programs as one of the players involved. To almost any onlooker, I was in real trouble, but the reality was, I had done nothing wrong.
It’s really aggravating to be falsely — and very publicly — accused of wrongdoing, but I leaned on the Lord during that time. Jesus was falsely accused of things as well, so it brought me closer to him. It’s one thing to meditate on certain mysteries of his life, but to experience something similar in your own life make it even more intense.
The whole thing actually served as a means to draw the team closer together and inspire many guys to look into the important questions of faith. Some who had no previous interest started asking questions and going to Bible studies, while others who were already somewhat into their faith, became even more interested.
Difficult times make you search for what is truly important, what truly lasts. Our standing with God is what matters most, and flowing from that is how we’re connected to others in faith. These are the things that will endure long after any sufferings or trials here below have vanished, like it says in Revelation 21.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Three of my top verses — or passages, really — are Psalm 23, Hebrews 3:5-6 and Ruth 1:16-17. Psalm 23 is a favorite of many people, since it expresses the believer’s relationship with the Lord. There’s a big emphasis on Providence — how, no matter what might happen, it is all for the good of the believer. Hebrews 3:5-6 is about perseverance in the faith under the Lordship of Christ. Ruth 1:16-17 is similar to the first two passages, because it’s about faithful determination despite any trials that might occur.
My fiancée Brittany and I read the Bible and discuss what we think certain passages mean. Of course, anyone can have their own opinion about Scripture, but as St. Peter tells us in his second epistle, Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation. So we make sure to take our cue from the Church, which brought us the Bible to begin with. The written word of God is a gift bestowed on the faithful through the Church, so it should be expected that we can learn more about this gift through the Church.
Do you have a patron saint?
Well, I tend to think that the apostles John and Simon are the best saints around, but my name might make me a little partial. I also owe much to St. Simon Stock, who received the brown scapular from the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I’ve been wearing the brown scapular for about four years now. My father wears one and he explained the promise related to it of not perishing in hell. That’s something you have to jump at. Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as Mary, Joseph, all the other saints and all the angels? If we persevere in the faith, eternal happiness will be our ultimate destiny.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle, Washington.