Simons bounces back at Minnesota

John Simons transferred to the Gophers from UW-Milwaukee.

Minnesota cross country runner John Simons transferred to the team after a year at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Now in his second season competing with the Gophers, Simons says his goal is to make the national team.

Blake Leigh

Minnesota cross country runner John Simons transferred to the team after a year at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Now in his second season competing with the Gophers, Simons says his goal is to make the national team.

Drew Claussen

John Simons always wanted to run for the Gophers — but after high school, it just wasn’t in the cards.

The redshirt junior from Hartland, Wis., put it simply by saying that he wasn’t good enough to compete at the Big Ten level. He ran his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“You could see that I could potentially be a Big Ten athlete,” Simons said. “But it didn’t come out until I ran at Milwaukee for a year.”

Since high school, Simons has journeyed from Milwaukee to Minneapolis and developed into a competitive runner in his second season competing with the Gophers cross country team.

Simons had a strong freshman year with the Panthers, placing first on the team in five of the six events he ran. Amid his success, Simons inquired about transferring to Minnesota with Gophers head coach Steve Plasencia.

Plasencia said Simons and his father had a good visit to the campus with him and that he thought Simons would be a good fit on the team.

But transferring to Minnesota was not a storybook ending for Simons. He described his first year and a half on campus as “pretty tough” as he fought multiple nagging injuries and less-than-stellar performances throughout his sophomore year cross country season.

The injuries eventually took their toll — Simons redshirted his sophomore track and field season and his junior cross country season. He said it was difficult to be separated from the team as he rehabbed with individual workouts, but it was important not to become frustrated.

“You’ve just got to believe that the reason that you’re here is because you’re talented enough to be here,” Simons said. “You’ve just got to be really patient.”

Coming off the redshirt year, Simons had a solid track and field season, finishing 16th in the indoor Big Ten championships 3,000-meter race and 15th at the outdoor Big Ten championships 5,000-meter race.

“This past track season was where I finally started to hit my stride,” Simons said. “Now it’s starting to turn over to cross country.”

Teammate and roommate Bob Nicolls said he was impressed with Simon’s persistence during his recovery process.

“He stayed focused,” Nicolls said. “When you get injured, which for distance runners tends to happen a lot, you kind of slide back. But John kept a positive attitude, so that definitely helped him.”

Simons’ persistence was a trait he developed before college, according to his Arrowhead Union High School coach Mike Mulrooney.

“The first thing that comes to mind is he was very intense,” Mulrooney said. “He was very precise about everything.”

Mulrooney said that Simons was precise with his workouts, nutrition and even the condition of his shoes, among other things.

“He’s the kind of guy that would study the training and results of other runners,” Mulrooney said. “He was the one telling me what people had accomplished before I knew of all the results.”

Simons loved running and training so much, his high school coaches had to keep tabs to make sure he didn’t over-train or over-exert himself.

Simons said he loves competitive running because of the lack of politics and because “you either run faster than the other guy on your team or you don’t; you make the roster or you don’t.”

Running collegiately is icing on the cake.

“We get to fly out to Utah, California [and] Texas on the school so I can run around a track or run around a golf course,” Simons said. “You’ve got to put that in perspective. It’s pretty cool stuff that we get to do because I can run fast.”

This season, Simons, who Nicolls described as the “team hipster” because of his long hair and the way he dresses, finished third on the team and 14th overall in his only event so far, the BYU Autumn Classic in Provo, Utah.

With the top-three finish, Plasencia said he could see Simons being a staple in the team’s top finishers for the rest of the season and his career at Minnesota.

But with only one event under his belt, Simons has a lot to prove to himself and his team this season.

He also has a goal that may finally be within reach.

“I came to this university because I wanted to make a national team,” Simons said. “That was the specific goal — running against the best in the country. It’s been a goal that’s eluded me for three years, so it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like this is finally the year where it’s the breakout, and I get to make nationals.”