STILLWATER — An Oklahoma State morning football practice is about to start, and a couple freshmen walk in late. A run blitz is called during a scrimmage, but a young player misses his assignment. Coaches ask players to pick up the locker room, as a few guys slip through the exit before cleaning.
Enter Ryan Simmons, the projected starting middle linebacker on a rebuilding Cowboy defense.
“It doesn’t bother me to say something,” he said.
But that’s just how Simmons operates. Coaches and teammates agree his leadership style is strict and upfront — to the point where defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said Simmons is “not in the locker room to make buddies.”
“Ryan is a no BS kind of guy,” defensive back Deric Robertson said. “If you’re not in it to win it, he doesn’t want you around. If your goals are not oriented toward the team and trying to make the defense better, or the overall team in general, he doesn’t want you around.”
That passion has only amplified since Simmons was ushered into the spotlight, Spencer said, during winter workouts after the Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri. That was the first time Simmons wasn’t in the shadow of Caleb Lavey or Shaun Lewis.
“(Simmons) couldn’t be that guy who just reacted off their emotions and their leadership,” Spencer said. “It was his and he grabbed it with both reins.”
And Simmons’ leadership style is certainly different than his predecessor. He said Lavey’s passion for the game was among the best he’d seen, but his interaction with teammates could be equally lighthearted. As Simmons puts it, Lavey was a “cool spirit all around” and could hold 30-minute conversations with everyone on the team.
“I guess I’m just a little more intense,” Simmons said. “I take a lot more things serious. I’m straight to the point. Be about your business.”
Simmons is the leading tackler among all returning Cowboys in 2014 after starting every game at outside linebacker last year. That should be enough to grab the attention and respect of a rebuilt defense that will feature more new faces than returning starters.
When it’s not, or when Simmons feels like a certain attitude or action needs correcting, he’s not afraid to make his point clear.
“When it comes down to football and what’s really important to me, I’m strictly business,” Simmons said. “There have been some times where I’ve said some things … Like ‘look, we can’t afford that. We can’t afford you messing up because we need you on the field. You have to contribute as well.’”
It can be a harsh welcome for freshmen players who came into the program as former top recruits. But Robertson, a sophomore, said it’s had a positive effect on the younger classes of Cowboys.
“I feel like guys will flock to it more than anything, because they realize that he’s doing the same thing I’m trying to do,” Robertson said. “We’re trying to win games, win championships.”
Simmons is careful to be as supportive as he is critical. He said he doesn’t want to just be “that older guy just talking down to everybody.” But if that’s what it takes to mold a young defense, he’s willing to do it.
“(Simmons) is not afraid to speak his mind,” Spencer said. “If it costs him having a buddy in the locker room, because they don’t want to follow him when he tells them what he expects, he doesn’t care … I haven’t had many like that.”