2018 C Spire Conerly Trophy winner Jeffery Simmons (right) is pictured with Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead following Tuesday night’s awards banquet.

Reactions to Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons’ winning the C Spire Conerly Trophy last night were as predictable as sunrise in the east and sunset in the west.

From State fans came lavish praise for Simmons’ selection and for the young man himself.

From many Ole Miss fans – certainly not all – came derision of both the selection and Simmons. The Conerly is “tainted” and Simmons’ selection was “disgusting,” they tweeted.

Rick Cleveland

From more than five decades of watching and writing about the Egg Bowl rivalry I can tell you this: Had the roles been reversed – were Simmons an Ole Miss Rebel – the reactions would have been similar, if not precisely the same. As my daddy always said, “It depends on whose ox is getting gored.”

Last year, A.J. Brown, the remarkable Ole Miss receiver, won the Conerly over Nick Fitzgerald, State’s oh-so-productive quarterback. Rebel fans praised the selection; State fans, by and large, thought this: “NickFitz was robbed.”

And so it goes.

The volume seems higher this year because of what happened three years ago when, between high school and college, Simmons was found guilty of simple assault and malicious mischief for striking a woman repeatedly. If you’ve seen the video, you know: It was ugly.

Then-State athletic director Scott Stricken stood tall for Jeffery Simmons in 2016.

Then-Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, now in the same position at Florida, stood by Simmons amid much criticism. Stricklin talked to community, church and school leaders in Macon. He talked to Simmons. In short, he determined that Simmons was a good kid who had made a terrible mistake.

Publicly, Stricklin said, “We expect the structure and discipline Jeffery will be a part of in our football program to benefit him. Jeffery will be held accountable for his actions while at MSU, and there will be consequences for any future incidents.”

And here’s the deal: There have been no incidents. Not. One.

Simmons has been – and this is no exaggeration – a model student-athlete. He has achieved better than a 3.0 GPA in human development and family science. He has landed on SEC Academic Honor Roll twice. He has participated in all sorts of community service, speaking at camps, schools and serving as a mentor in Macon. He won Mississippi State’s Newsom Award last spring for his work on the field, in the community and the classroom. His is a story of redemption.

“Jeffery has checked all the boxes,” State athletic director John Cohen said. “He really has been the model for what you want in a student-athlete.”

On the field, he has been an absolute beast, despite constant double-teaming from opponents. He is the best player on one of the best defenses in the country.

Deuce McAllister

Featured C Spire Conerly banquet speaker Deuce McAllister, an Ole Miss man, and Simmons were seen sharing a long, private moment after the awards ceremony at the Country Club of Jackson Tuesday night. Later, McAllister said he was just congratulating Simmons on all he has achieved and advising him to “stay humble” and “keep working.”

“I thought he deserved the trophy this year,” McAllister said.

The State-Ole Miss thing?

“One night a year, they’re the enemy,” McAllister said. “You want to beat them. But we’re all Mississippi. I told Jeffery I’ll do anything in the world I can to help him and I will.”

And here’s the other thing you should know: If Jeffery Simmons hadn’t been doing this for State, he would have been doing it for Ole Miss, LSU, Alabama, Auburn or any other number of SEC teams.

Simmons was eloquent in accepting the Conerly, named for one of Ole Miss’s greatest football legends. He thanked coaches, family and fans. He talked about how the challenges he has faced have made him a better man.

He talked about a poem he lives by, one he has taped to his bathroom mirror so that he sees it every morning when he washes his face and brushes his teeth. It is called “See It Through” by Edgar Allen Guest.

Whether you pull for Ole Miss, Mississippi State or someone else, you might enjoy the poem. “Google it,” Simmons told me. “It’s how I try to live my life.”

So I googled it:


Meet it squarely, face to face; 
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through! 

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through! 

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through! 

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.