FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Where Shayne Simon is going to end up is a bit of a mystery on a couple of different levels, which makes the 4-star prospect an intriguing one to monitor for fans of many Big Ten schools in the coming months.
Simon is one of the top players in New Jersey in the Class of 2018. He’s the No. 160 player in the nation, according to the 247sports composite rankings. His list of suitors is long, and includes a heavy Big Ten presence.
Let’s start with the first mystery: Where will Simon play in college?
Not which school, but which position.
Simon is listed as a 6-foot-3, 215-pound outside linebacker in his 247Sports profile. He’s big for a safety prospect but maybe a little light to play linebacker at the high major college football level. He’s also a fantastic athlete, showing off some athleticism Sunday at the New Jersey regional camp for Nike’s The Opening, the premier showcase of high school football talent in America.
Years ago, Simon might be considered a bit of a ‘tweener — someone who needed to add weight to be a traditional linebacker in college.
Now, however, Simon’s versatility and athleticism makes him a perfect fit for many teams. Lots of teams are looking for ‘tweeners — a hybrid between defensive back and linebacker who can be an asset against the run or the pass and help defensive coordinators try to combat a variety of spread offenses.
“I don’t have any preference. I just want to be on the field,” Simon said. “Some at safety, some at outside linebacker. Some have a position where it is like a hybrid.”
OK, so where might Simon end up? He reportedly has offers from 21 schools, and isn’t ready to rule out anyone. Or divulge which ones are recruiting him the hardest. Or which ones he likes the most. Or when he wants to decide.
There are seven Big Ten teams among the group he’s communicating with. Let’s highlight what he likes about the Big 3:
“The atmosphere, the environment, Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and Coach (Don) Brown’s defense. I really think I would fit there.”
There are some obvious connections with the Wolverines. Michigan has become a huge player for the top recruits in New Jersey. Jabrill Peppers and Rashan Gary are two of the best prospects from the Garden State in the 21st century, and they both chose Michigan.
Peppers’ high school coach, Chris Partridge, is now on the Michigan staff and is the primary recruiter for guys such as Simon.
“It’s cool. I know some guys up there,” said Simon, who played against current Wolverines tailback Kareem Walker. “It just comes with it, I guess. Coach Partridge does a good job.”
The role Peppers has played for Michigan, whether it was at safety or in the hybrid “viper” role this past season, is an obvious selling point for the Wolverines, as well.
“I love Coach (James) Franklin, Coach (Brent) Pry and Coach (Ricky) Rahne,” Simon said. “They are always good to be around. I enjoyed my visit there a lot.”
Simon visited State College in early April, just before his spring break, and enjoyed the experience. He had the chance to watch a full spring practice.
Penn State has traditionally recruited well in New Jersey, with several key players currently on the roster from the state.
The Nittany Lions are also riding a wave of recruiting momentum and currently have the No. 3 class in the nation for 2018. Winning a Big Ten championship in 2016 has changed the way Franklin and his staff can recruit.
Penn State doesn’t need to sell the future anymore. The Nittany Lions are the reigning Big Ten champions and will begin next season as a preseason top-10 team.
“They have a focus. They’re ready to go and keep getting better,” Simon said. “It’s just a comfortable environment. All of the coaches are down to earth, high energy.”
“Coach (Urban) Meyer and Coach (Greg) Schiano — the military-style environment they have where everybody is accounted for and everyone is accountable,” Simon said. “Just how they play football — I enjoy it a lot.”
The way the Buckeyes play football is a strong selling point for just about any prospect. Ohio State is 61-6 since Meyer arrived, and has also assembled the closest thing anyone in the country has to a roster of recruits comparable to the Alabama dynasty.
Where Simon would fit among them is not immediately clear. The Buckeyes already have two safeties committed in the 2018 class, Jaiden Woodbey and Josh Proctor — both 4-star prospects. Ohio State also loaded up on linebackers and defensive backs in the 2017 class.
Simon said that Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Rutgers are all involved, as well. He did say that location and proximity to home wasn’t going to be a big factor, hence why he’s so open to the Big Ten West schools, as well.
Where he is going or when is going to decide may be a bit of a mystery, but someone in the Big Ten could end up with a very intriguing athlete who could fill a variety of different roles for a creative defensive coordinator.