When Mark Simoneau was making his decision on where he wanted to play college football, only one option presented itself —Kansas State.
“I wasn’t highly recruited,” Simoneau said by phone on Tuesday. “Nobody had really offered me a scholarship. There weren’t the recruiting (services) at that point and there weren’t all those combines. I think you could go to colleges camps but I never went to any camps or anything and I really hadn’t been exposed much being in Smith Center, Kansas.”
But thanks to hard work and dedication, Simoneau received that exposure at K-State, where he became a Consensus First-Team All-American, the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year and racked up a school-leading 251 unassisted tackles in his four-year career.
And on Tuesday, the National Football Foundation rewarded Simoneau’s collegiate career by announcing he will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 4 — an induction that will include 14 former players and three former college coaches.
“Mark is a tremendous young man with a wonderful family and I am extremely proud of him,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said in a statement. “He had a long career in the NFL because he maintained the intrinsic values of commitment, unselfishness, hard work, mental toughness, persistence, responsibility and integrity. He has been the consummate team player throughout his life, and this is truly a well-deserved honor.”
Simoneau, who starred as a linebacker at K-State from 1996-99, will become just the second Wildcat (Gary Spani) to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and will be the first player under Snyder.
“Being the first player under Coach Snyder to be elected to the Hall of Fame is truly humbling,” said Simoneau, who played 11 seasons in the NFL. “As a small-town kid from Smith Center, Kansas, I never could have dreamed of such an honor, but it shows that with hard work and a dream, anything is possible.”
Simoneau credited his former coaches, including legendary Smith Center coach Roger Barta, as well as his college teammates for this honor.
“I had so many great teammates and those were such great teams,” said Simoneau, who helped lead the Wildcats to a 42-7 record during his career. “Without those teams, my teammates, the great coaching, I wouldn’t be here talking about this.
“I’m hoping tons of my former teammates get in. There were so many great guys, so many guys who made it possible to be the teams that we were. It’s kind of a weird feeling actually to just know that you’re the first one out of that group. It was just such a special time at Kansas State.”
Simoneau will be the youngest former player to be inducted into the 2012 class, which includes former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer, UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and Syracuse’s Art Monk.
The former three-time Butkus Award candidate said he found out about the honor last Friday when he received a letter in the mail.
“I had to keep it quiet for awhile,” he laughed. “When I opened the letter it said I had made it and it was just kind of a surreal moment thinking about everything that had gone on in my career. To be recognized for individual accomplishments for the body of work you put together is pretty special. It’s just special to be able to look back and see that other people appreciate the work that you put in.”
Nearly 4.86 million people have played or coached college football over the past 143 years, but only 914 (including the 2012 class) former players and 197 coaches have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, meaning just .0002 percent of those who coached or played the game have earned the prestigious honor.
Simoneau, who was once a lightly-recruited kid from the tiny town of Smith Center, became one of those 914 former players on Tuesday.
“Everything just worked out the way it was supposed to work out,” he said. “I got an opportunity to go to K-State and obviously it was an easy decision. It was also the best decision.”