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New Orleans Native Aderious Simmons Tries to Catch on with Saints as Undrafted Free Agent

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A month ago, former Arizona State offensive tackle Aderious Simmons arrived at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for a customary pre-NFL draft visit with the Saints.

The trip, though, was anything but ordinary.

"It was kind of emotional," Simmons told Yahoo! Sports, "my first time back in five years."

Simmons is a New Orleans native, born at Charity Hospital and reared in several neighborhoods, including the Westbank and Harvey. But in August 2005, he was among the thousands who bolted from New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina and struggled to piece their lives back together.

Despite returning to his roots, Simmons felt awkward cruising through his old haunts in a rental car.

"The biggest thing in my head was, 'I was at home, but I felt like a stranger,' " Simmons recalled. "I noticed all the changes.

"I didn't really have a place to call home."

Simmons, who started his football career just three years earlier after not playing a single down in middle or high school, was signed by the Saints as a rookie free agent a couple of hours following the draft's final round on April 28. The Saints rookie camp opens Friday.

Despite not even getting an invite for the NFL scouting combine, Simmons, 25, intrigued several teams because of his frame (6-foot-7, 308 pounds) and athleticism.

The Saints refused comment for this story, but Simmons' agent Blake Baratz said the team was clear on why it wanted the former Sun Devil.

"They loved his upside; [his] big athletic body worked out well for them," said Baratz, who founded the Institute For Athletes.

Levi Jones, a former top-10 pick who started 97 games in eight NFL seasons, has mentored Simmons for more than a year. Jones questioned the quality of the coaching Simmons received with the Sun Devils, but he's excited about what his young charge will learn from the Saints.

"He survived at a D-1 college, basically off of raw athleticism," Jones said. "He wasn't coached, but his upside is tremendous.

"Everything I've asked him to do, he's been able to do. He's made miraculous improvements."

Unexpected journey

Simmons explains in vivid detail the circumstances of leaving New Orleans in 2005 and returning a few months later to work assorted jobs such as washing cars and painting metals. Yet he isn't as forthcoming when asked about his upbringing and his family.

"My mother is in Mississippi, my father is in California, last time I spoke to him," Simmons said.

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Aderious Simmons (US Presswire)

Simmons said he played organized sports such as basketball, track and baseball as a youth but none in high school. Asked why, Simmons matter-of-factly said he didn't have the desire. Additionally, he said, his mother worked two jobs, and he had a younger sister to watch.

When Hurricane Katrina struck, shortly after he finished high school, Simmons and his family fled to Jackson, Miss., where he remained for three months. But he yearned to return to New Orleans, where he said he washed cars at a Nissan dealership.

Next jobs, he said, were at a factory and then a construction company.

Given his size, many of the other construction workers would tell him, "You should be playing football."

While playing in a Turkey Bowl with friends, Simmons realized he enjoyed football.

Around that same time, he was reading one chapter in the Bible during his lunch breaks, growing stronger in his faith.

"I didn't know God," he said. "But I started to get more comfortable in what I wanted in life."

He felt inspired by God to drive from New Orleans to the University of Miami, where he appeared unannounced at the football office. Informed by coaches there that he needed experience at lower-level programs, Simmons ended up at several community colleges, in Mississippi and Iowa and California, until finally gaining some attention while at El Camino College in 2009.

"I was there to watch another player, and I saw him playing left tackle," said then Arizona State offensive line coach Gregg Smith. "I saw how athletic he was. Even though he was kind of a raw player, you could see a lot of great things in him.

"I immediately turned my focus to him."

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Like a 'stenographer'

Smith coached for 43 years, mostly with Dennis Erickson, who was fired as ASU's coach last November. When Simmons arrived on campus, Smith recognized just how raw the player was: his hips and posture, among other things, were not even at a rudimentary level.

"You could tell he hadn't really been coached very long," Smith said. "All those little things that change you from being just an average player to a really good player.

"But those things were all correctable."

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Aderious Simmons started for the Sun Devils despite very little previous experience. (Arizona State athletics)

Simmons started six of nine games in 2010. But Jones was troubled when he watched Simmons at one practice he attended. During a one-on-one drill against a defensive end, Simmons leaned on his opponent and turned his hip and shoulders toward the sideline.

An assistant coach applauded him.

"He did everything they told me not to do in the NFL and in college, and he was praised for it," Jones recalled. "He was so raw, and he wasn't coached. He was at Arizona State for two years, and he was behind the eight ball.

"It's kind of disheartening."

That's hard for Jones to admit; he was an All-Pac 10 offensive tackle for the Sun Devils in 2001. The 10th overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2002, Jones marveled at how quickly Simmons learned, when he taught him.

"He listens to the point, where you kind of have to be careful," Jones said. "He's like a stenographer. He'll put what you tell him to work.

"If he had been developed, he should have been a first-rounder."

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Smith laughed when told of Jones' critical comments.

"That's his opinion. But the thing that I can tell you is this: Once he got injured, we weren't able to coach him," said Smith, referring to Simmons' ankle injury early last season. "He couldn't do anything. That went on for months."

In fact, had he been healthy and played all season, Smith projected that Simmons would have been a relatively high draft pick.

"He was one of those guys that, when you watch him, he looks great getting off the bus. But it's just too bad, that he had to go through all that," Smith said. "He had a lot of high hopes for himself, and what he wanted to accomplish. But it didn't work out.

"If he gets in the right place, and a team is patient with him, down the road, he'll be an excellent player."

While injured, Simmons received a lot of encouragement, including from former NFL player Barry Gardner, who could relate to him. Gardner earned a football scholarship at Northwestern University after beginning his career there as a walk-on.

"Regardless of how much football he's played, he's a survivor," said Gardner, the head of client development for the Institute For Athletes. "He's been through the worst, so there's nothing the NFL can do to rattle him."

Days before the draft, Simmons was asked if he would be disappointed if not selected.

"Not at all," he said. "I know God has a plan. It's his plan, and not mine.

"I just want to follow the steps that are there for me."

But asked about the possibility of playing for the Saints, Simmons was intrigued, especially since he never imagined himself as a football player growing up in New Orleans.

"Imagine growing up in your hometown and playing for your home team. I never thought that was possible," he said. "That would probably be the biggest thing that could happen."

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