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Why Pahokee quarterback Austin Simmons is drawing comparisons to Anquan Boldin, Peyton Manning

PAHOKEE — With storm clouds forming over Lake Okeechobee and the cane surrounding Anquan Boldin Stadium swaying from the breeze, the Pahokee football team hit a practice field turned crunchy and golden brown from the lack of rain.

Quarterback Austin Simmons warmed up as his teammates were getting loose adjacent to the main field where Pahokee opens its regular season Thursday against Cardinal Newman.

"Bring your arm up," Simmons' father David, an assistant coach, yelled to his son. "You see how low it is? You got to work on it. Get it up. C'mon. Got to."

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When you are an elite quarterback and pitching prospect, sometimes one can result in a bad habit for the other.

"Going back to baseball, he's got no muscle memory to bring (his arm) up," David said. "Football you got to be here (his arm starting over his head). Baseball you go here to go here (his arm starting much lower).

"Sometimes he'll drop the elbow. His hands are so fast and he's such a big guy it doesn't bother him."

Austin Simmons is two-sport 'phenom'

Pahokee quarterback Austin Simmons looks for an open receiver during game against Glades Central in the Muck Bowl in Pahokee last November.
Pahokee quarterback Austin Simmons looks for an open receiver during game against Glades Central in the Muck Bowl in Pahokee last November.

Austin Simmons is, according to Pahokee coach Emmanuel Hendrix, a "phenom." And Hendrix is not exaggerating. But the unique part of Simmons' story is it just isn't fans in Palm Beach County who are treated to his rare talents. Simmons already has starred in varsity sports in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

And he's 16.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Simmons is home schooled and taking on-line courses. He is a sophomore athletically but has completed his high school core classes and finished 15 college credits.

This allows him to play football at Pahokee while living with his dad in Canal Point, and play baseball in Dade County while living with his mom in Miami. Last season, he pitched for the Doctors Charter School of Miami Shores varsity, and tossed two no-hitters. This year he may return to Miami Christian where he was on the varsity as a 6th and 7th grader.

Simmons also played varsity football at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines as an 8th grader.

"Austin is kind of in a category by himself because of the amount of work he puts in," said Oliver Bozeman, who has coached Simmons for the last five years.

"Most kids are in school all day. Austin has already completed his school work and he's in the weight room or he's in film study or he's doing quarterback sessions when most kids are doing school work."

And this is not a kid who neglects his school work for that training. He's able to spend more time working out because he is responsible and mature beyond his age. He comes from a family of serious students - his mom graduated from the University of Miami, his dad from Virginia Union. Academics have been a priority.

Pahokee quarterback Austin Simmons and his father, David Simmons.
Pahokee quarterback Austin Simmons and his father, David Simmons.

Depending on the day, Simmons could be taking classes at 7 a.m., working out mid-morning, back online around noon and on the practice field at 3 p.m.

All of which aligns with one of the traits his coaches agree separates Austin from his peers - football IQ.

Simmons has spent as much time around game plans as Game Boys. He knew how to read blitzes before reading Dr. Seuss. With his father coaching in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League along with several high school stops - University School and Flanagan in Broward, and Glades Central and Pahokee - Austin knows all about film sessions.

"He was always taking me to football practice," Austin said about his dad. "I just visionally learned it. It just stuck to me."

Austin also credits his personal coaches: Bozeman, who runs Bozeman Academy and has worked with elite quarterbacks such as Teddy Bridgewater and Michael Vick; and David Lee, a longtime QB coach who has worked at eight colleges and five NFL teams, including the Dolphins from 2008-10.

"Austin has a football IQ of a college quarterback right now," Bozeman said. "He understands coverages. He understands the disguising of coverages. Austin knows where to go with the ball. He has preset in his mind based on the down and distance what coverage he may be facing."

Of course, so much more separates Simmons. Hendrix was raised in Pahokee, played there and had two separate stints there as an assistant coach before becoming head coach. He knows its history.

So he speaks from experience when he makes comparisons between Simmons and the player whose name is attached to the stadium where he coaches.

"I played with Anquan Boldin and Austin sees the field way better," Hendrix said. "He's not the athlete Anquan is but knowing the game and understanding the offense and having total control over the offense, he's the best I've ever been around."

Not only does Hendrix say Simmons is "a more athletic Peyton Manning," David Simmons says people call his son "the Black Peyton Manning."

Is he next Peyton Manning or Randy Johnson?

Austin and David have not mapped out Austin's future. Why should they? At 16, who knows if he's the next Peyton Manning or Randy Johnson or something in between. Although he is listed as a member of the Class of 2025, opinion is split as to whether he'll play high school football beyond this year.

When asked about his future, Austin says, "I don't really know but I see my future in both sports. To be as good as I am in football, to be as good as I am in baseball, it's a blessing."

Simmons believes he's a better pitcher than quarterback and points to his fastball that topped out at 93 mph last month. Others point to the fact he is left-handed, a valuable commodity, especially in baseball.

Simmons already has an offer to play baseball at Georgia Tech and has received love from football coaches at Louisville, Florida State, Tennessee, Arkansas, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and others. He really enjoyed his first recruiting trip, which was to Louisville.

As for baseball, it takes longer to make it to The Show, thus longer to cash in on the big contracts. Although signing bonuses do help while advancing through the minor leagues.

So whether he plays two sports in college or goes pro in one sport is to be determined. But one thing is certain, the NCAA's Name, Image and Likeness legislature could have a major impact on that decision.

"Being highly-ranked in both sports, attracts attention to both sports, attracts attention to me, especially on social media," Austin said. "It will boost it up a lot."

When David Simmons was asked how much NIL will change the game, he said, "A lot."

NIL deals are difficult to confirm but this is what the Simmons family sees: QB Josh Rashada, the No. 17 recruit in the 2023 class, reportedly receiving $9.5 million from a Miami Hurricanes booster (Rashada's NIL attorney said the deal was "considerably less"). Then, there's QB Malachi Nelson, the No. 2 recruit in the 2023 class, telling ESPN he expects to agree to nearly a million dollars in endorsement deals by the time he enrolls at USC. Plus millions being thrown around for established stars.

"That's more than what minor leagues would give him," David said.

But for now, Austin is only thinking about getting in a full season (he missed the first half of last year before being cleared by the FHSAA) and helping Pahokee to some unfinished business. The Blue Devils were crushed by Hawthorne in the 4-1A Region Championship last season.

"We'll truly be able to see what he's capable of this year," Hendrix said. "There're no limitations."

Tom D'Angelo is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at tdangelo@pbpost.com

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Pahokee's Austin Simmons: Head coach says he's better than Anquan Boldin