Antjuan Simmons was the heartbeat of the Michigan State defense the past two seasons. The linebacker from Ann Arbor started all 20 games in that span and finished as a second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection and team captain in 2020.
Now, he’s declared for the NFL draft, which will take place April 29-May 1. As he prepares the next few months, Simmons has agreed to detail his training and interviewing with teams with the Lansing State Journal in an ongoing draft diary, as told to LSJ reporter Nate Atkins. His second entry focuses on how he’s remaking his body for the NFL.
It’s crazy how much you can learn about yourself in a single year of college. That’s also the point of going.
Last spring, I took a peek at the NFL, as it was my first time being eligible to enter the draft. The peek didn’t last long. If I had doubts in my own abilities, I could only imagine the scrutiny that would come from a league where all-conference players miss the cut every year.
I knew I had to get better as a senior. I owed it to myself and to my team, especially as a captain. It wasn’t easy during quarantine in a pandemic, when public gyms weren’t open, much less the NFL-style workouts Mel Tucker was introducing to our program.
So I just started trying things with resistance bands. After home workouts, I stretched my muscles to limits I didn’t know I had. Over time, my shoulders felt bigger and stronger. And when I got to the field, those climbing guards weren’t as imposing as I remembered. I started striking them more and realized how fun it was to impose my will.
A year later, I feel I’m ready for the NFL. It’s a bet on what I’ve done already, but it’s just as much a bet on what I can become.
Now, instead of experimenting with home workouts, I’m training four days a week at Impact Sports Performance in Walled Lake. I’m one of a few draft hopefuls doing it along with some NFL players staying fresh in the offseason, such as Michigan State alumnus Matt Sokol of the Chargers, Anthony Pittman of the Lions and Jake Lampman of the Saints.
Training with all of them from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. four days a week gives me a constant measuring stick of where I am and where I’m not. It’s as humbling as it is inspiring.
We draft hopefuls are in a race against time. The Michigan State pro day is now just 15 days away. That’s where all the gains I make athletically and physically will be under the microscope in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press. I’ll meet with teams and start the dialogue. It’s my one chance to make a strong first impression.
To get there, I’m following the path laid out by my trainer, Jim Kielbaso. As a linebacker, you’re wired to go all out all the time – in conditioning, on lifts, in drills and especially in games. But the heights I’m chasing now are so high, and I have to walk before I can run.
I remember starting out with the bench press, where we’re working on a speed circuit to build up to the 225-pound rep test at the pro day. For each set, we needed to do eight reps in eight seconds at the top weight we could handle. I did mine at 165 pounds.
A few weeks later, I was doing 205 and in less than eight seconds. I’m now up to 225, which is the weight I’ll test at the pro day as well as the weight I feel best playing at on the field.
As football players, we’re always looking to add as much bulk and strength as possible without sacrificing any speed. That’s the only way to survive a 16-game season in a league with so much speed.
It’s more of a challenge for me at 6 feet tall than for someone who is, say, 6-4. But since I’ve always felt like I’ve had what it took to do anything athletically on a football field, adding eight pounds of muscle while testing at the same speeds has energized me that much more.
I’m excited to show the gains I’ve made for teams in two weeks. I hope it’ll start a dialogue and lead them to look more at my college film. I’m proud of what they’ll find there in my instincts, tenacity and playmaking ability. But now they can see for themselves just how far I can climb in just a couple months working out on my own time.
It’s one more avenue I’m taking to show the league I’m willing to do whatever it takes.