When David Simmet began playing organized youth football, he was outfitted with a red stripe on his helmet — prohibiting him from running with the football — because, he estimates, he was "easily" 100 pounds heavier than any other player.
On game day, his parents invariably offered the same advice: "Go out, play hard, but don't hurt anybody," said his father, Bob Simmet, who can still recall his son trying his best to provide a soft landing for opposing ballcarriers.
David Simmet remains by all accounts a gentle giant, now a 6-9, 350-pound senior offensive tackle at St. Thomas. But the former Hill-Murray standout says he has learned that "aggressive doesn't mean dirty. Aggressive just means using what God gave you for right."
He's certainly done that, handling opposing defensive linemen so consistently that he is a finalist for the Gagliardi Award, given to the national Division III Player of the Year, a rare honor for an offensive lineman. Simmet is the bellwether of a big, physical offensive line that averages 306 pounds and has played a large part in the team's 12-0 record. The Tommies, who play host to Wabash (Ind.) on Saturday in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals, average 54.9 points and 548.7 yards per game.
Simmet has solid athletic skills for a man his size, a fact he credits to his parents introducing him to a variety of sports as a youngster, the list including, but not limited to, basketball, soccer, swimming, karate, tennis and track. Simmet said he believes his parents' motivation with all the activities was "to keep me thinner."
The result was a 350-pound tackle with such diverse athletic talent that he played both football and basketball as a St. Thomas freshman.
St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso calls Simmet "one of the most amazing young men that I've ever had the opportunity to coach." This is not hyperbole, since Caruso can immediately rattle off a succession of reasons why. Start with Simmet's 3.97 GPA with a double major in accounting and financial management that has made the tackle a two-time academic All-America. Simmet missed a 4.0 thanks to A-minus grades in two freshman classes — English and theology (remember football and basketball as a freshman).
Then there's the tackle's leadership — "he's one of the guys who has helped mold who the team is becoming," the coach said — and the string of volunteer organizations he's involved in, including Special Olympics, St. Jude's fundraising, Second Harvest Food Packaging, Feed My Starving Children and Students Today Leaders Forever, for which he is co-president of the UST chapter.
Proof of the trust Caruso has in Simmet came last spring during the Tommies' international trip to Italy. Caruso was felled by a bad back in Florence, and figured his wife, Rachael, needed an extra set of eyes to watch their three young children. That person was Simmet.
"When I was hurting and I needed someone to be able to count on, my first thought was that I could count on him," Caruso said. "Obviously, you can tell that I love him very much."
That Simmet ended up at St. Thomas was not a given. He was asked to be a recruited walk-on at Wisconsin, talked with the Minnesota staff and was pursued by countless Division II programs.
Simmet said he was thinking of Division III the entire time because of the chance offered to focus on academics, as well as play both football and basketball. Simmet chose St. Thomas over St. John's, breaking a family tradition, because "it felt right." Simmet's father, Bob, played basketball at St. John's, and his mother, Margaret, and sister, Meghan, graduated from St. Benedict's, the co-ed partner of SJU. Simmet said his parents left the choice to him, advising him only to make his decision based on what might happen if he tore his ACL as a freshman and never played another snap.
Simmet interned last summer at Price Waterhouse and has a job waiting for him upon graduation, he said. But a new thought, surprising even to him, has crept into his mind lately: What if an NFL team offered a tryout?
"My whole life, I kept thinking no, no, no, it was never my dream," he said of continuing football beyond school. "But now, with a maximum of 2½ weeks left to play football, I don't know. … I won't rule it out, but it's not something I'm actually going to seek. I think I have other things to spend my energy on."
When he mentions those things, the abbreviations he talks about are MBA (master's degree in business) and CPA (certified public accountant). Not NFL.