Many Division I college football recruits experience a reality check when they arrive on campus and realize they are no longer the top guy at their school.
Easton, Pa., native Shane Simpson quickly came to that realization when he stepped foot on Towson University's campus in 2015. A record-setting running back at Easton High School, Simpson joined the Towson program as the backup to one of its top rushers in school history, Darius Victor, who is now with the New Orleans Saints.
"Usually, in high school, everybody that gets recruited is 'the man' in high school," Simpson said. "Sometimes, being a true freshman, that's not your role anymore. So I just had to learn that, and learn from [Victor] and [former Towson and current Baltimore Ravens running back Terrance West]. ... They've been a big help."
At Easton High School, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Simpson earned first-team all-state honors in Pennsylvania, combining for more than 6,000 yards and a record-setting 85 touchdowns as a running back and receiver. As a senior, Simpson scored 41 times, including seven touchdowns in a single game.
Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said Simpson's ability to adjust to the physicality of college football was the greatest lesson he received from his predecessors.
"We're all kings where we come from," Ambrose said. "Some of us are bigger kings than others. But the physicality that he would have to face in college was nothing like high school. Darius and Terrance were well-built for that, and Shane wasn't. For him to understand that and still excel in the physicality of it with all his versatile skills, that's where I've seen him grow the most. He realizes, ‘I'm going to get banged up, and I have to play well banged up just like everybody else.'"
To Simpson, his weight was just a number. He was determined to earn his spot and would do so by showing off the versatility that got him there.
"With my versatility, I can play running back, wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner," Simpson said. "So weight isn't really a factor with that. Speed kills in the game of football, so as long as I keep my speed, everything will play out."
Simpson made an immediate impression on his coaches during his true freshman season in 2015, appearing in four games before injury cut his season short.
As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Simpson recorded 1,870 all-purpose yards -- 819 yards rushing, 64 yards receiving, 72 yards off punt returns and 915 yards off kick returns. He earned All-Colonial Athletic Association and STATS All-America honors as a kick returner.
Simpson spent the 2017 offseason increasing the one number that haunted him as a freshman -- his weight -- by adding 15 pounds. This fall, he came in at 200 pounds.
"The coaches didn't really care where my weight came in," Simpson said "For me, I wanted to gain some weight so I could take the poundings. I intended on getting the bulk of the reps, so right now, at 200 pounds, I feel solid here."
Ambrose doesn't worry about his starting running back losing a step.
"You'll see the proof in the pudding when you see him play," Ambrose said. "He's carrying himself well. There's nothing we've asked him to do that he can't do while he's carrying a little more extra weight."
This year, Simpson will look to continue the solid Towson running back tradition.
"This is definitely 'Running Back U' now," Simpson said. "With Terrance West being with the Ravens and [Victor] with the Saints. They passed it down to me now, and I look forward to keep improving."
Ambrose thinks Simpson has the skills to get there.
"When you walk in as the guy playing behind [Terrance West] or the guy playing behind [Darius Victor], no matter how good you are you think, ‘Whoa. These guys do stuff I can't do.'" Ambrose said. "But now he's that guy. He's gone from the No. 2 guy to the ace pitcher. Now instead of following, he's leading.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 237: September 2017