T.J. Simmons hoping to join list of impact WVU receivers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia wide receiver T.J. Simmons is embracing the chance to lead a unit that lost most of its production.

An afterthought last season, Simmons is now the focal point of an inexperienced group still trying to fill out a depth chart under new head coach Neal Brown.

“No pressure,” Simmons said. “I enjoy it because it keeps me accountable.”

Simmons is a junior who transferred from Alabama after the 2016 season. He started half of West Virginia’s games in 2018 and finished fifth on the team with 341 receiving yards on 28 catches.

Tevin Bush is the only other returning wide receiver who had more than 10 receptions. Also in the mix are redshirt freshman Sam James and Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell, who had 13 career catches. Brown also hopes Temple sophomore transfer Sean Ryan will be granted immediate eligibility.

Simmons will try to continue a decade-long tradition of high-impact pass catchers that included Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Kevin and Ka’Raun White and, over the past two seasons, David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr.

Sills caught 18 TDs in 2017 and combined with Jennings for 1,900 receiving yards and 28 scores last year. West Virginia also lost speedster Marcus Simms, the team’s third-leading receiver, and dependable tight end Trevon Wesco.

“It’s not your perfect situation,” Brown said. “T.J. Simmons is the only experience we have. We’re making steady improvement. I think that’s the position group that will benefit the most by going back to the video and then making some corrections.”

Simmons, who also became a father shortly before the start of fall camp, said Sills and Jennings taught him more about the mind than the hands — to stay level-headed and maintain a professional attitude.

“No matter if times get hard or if times are good, they tried to always keep that same work ethic, bring that same type of intensity to practice and try to get better each and every day,” Simmons said. “And that’s something I try to do. I try to push myself even if I’m down mentally or not feeling it on a certain day. Because I’m the focal point of the receiving corps.”

Simmons’ goal is simply doing whatever he can for the team, and scoring touchdowns will be a must. His lone 2018 TD catch came in the opener against Tennessee.

He’s had to fend off lingering criticism for drawing a penalty for finishing a block on an opponent well out of bounds that negated a long run late against Oklahoma. The close loss kept West Virginia out of the Big 12 championship game.

Simmons uses that memory as a teaching tool as West Virginia prepares to open the season at home Aug. 31 against FCS James Madison.

“I definitely do think about it, especially when we’re doing perimeter blocking or when somebody makes a good block on the sideline,” he said. “Even though I play around with it and say ‘That’s a flag, you better stop blocking them,’ I’m really trying to help them out. Because in a game, that could be a costly penalty like in the Oklahoma game and can turn the game around.”

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This story corrects that Simmons’ 2018 TD catch came against Tennessee.

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