By Rick Assad
For Randy Simmrin, playing football for the Burbank Vikings, Burroughs High, USC and later professionally delivered joy in multiple ways.
But it was actually more than that, it was for all intents and purposes, a classroom.
“If you get knocked down, get back up and keep trying. Life will knock you down sometimes, but you can get back in the game by just standing up,” he said.
Simmrin went on: “People working together can accomplish great things,” he added. “No one accomplishes anything alone. There is more strength inside us that we are unaware of. When tested we can reach down deep and find that inner strength to succeed.”
When Simmrin, an admitted deep thinker, played for the Burbank Vikings, it set in motion what would in part, but not totally, define him.
“My advice to anyone wanting to play youth football is that you must look into your heart and see if the love for football is there,” said Simmrin, currently the Executive Director for Community Advancement Development Corporation, an affordable housing developer in Southern California. “If you have the love and passion for the game it is the greatest thing ever.”
There is a caveat. “But football is a grind. It is hard work, but you are rewarded like no other sport,” he pointed out. “You must love football to enjoy it. Once you develop that love, my advice is play as long as your heart desires and you are physically able. No matter how long you play, your career will end at a very young age. Make sure that this game that you love is only a part of who you are. The rest of your life is waiting.”
That love started early for Simmrin, who played three years [1971-1973] for the Indians.
“I could tell you about the hard work and life lessons and the teamwork,” he explained. “But what drew me to football was the effect it had on my family. Football kept our family unit together. Saturday’s playing for the Burbank Vikings was a family affair. When I started playing football, I saw my family bond behind it. I would look up in the stands and see my mother sitting next to my father. I would see my sisters and my nephew. It was a beautiful time that we spent together and it made us closer. I always associated football with family and was grateful for that time we spent together.”
No doubt, Simmrin had a gift, but was also humble. In his senior year, the wide receiver was the only one selected from California named to the Coach and Athlete High School Super 11 All-American Team that included several notables including 1977 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Texas and College Football and NFL Hall of Famer, running back Earl Campbell and wide receiver John Jefferson, who played at Arizona State and had a eight-year stint in the NFL where he was named All-Pro three times and Pro Bowl four times, said an incident early on shaped his life.
“When I was very young I always wanted more time with my father,” he said. “He was always busy with something and did not have too much time for me. The one thing we would do together was go to the Coliseum and watch the Los Angeles Rams play. I noticed how intently he watched the players on the field and desired to be on the field with him watching me.”
Simmrin continued: “One game I will never forget. I was sitting there with my father at the age of eight years old. As I watched the field with him a strange sensation came over me,” he said. “I saw myself running on the field with the players. It was like a dream vision in the pit of my stomach when my eight-year-old self knew something was coming. I forgot all about that day until the first time I ran out of the tunnel in the Coliseum my freshman year at USC. It all came back and I literally had tears in my eyes.”
Those years on the USC campus still gives Simmrin goosebumps.
“Looking back I remember my days at USC the most. I walked onto the USC campus as a 17-year-old, 6-foot-1, 150-pound freshman out of Burroughs,” he offered. “I was so young and so light that Coach [John] McKay did not call me by my name that year. Instead he would always yell out, ”little boy,” when he wanted me to do something. It was a time that I was not truly ready for. I was too young and naive for a lot of what was going on, but on the field I was at home and comfortable doing what I had been doing since the Burbank Vikings. We won [two] Rose Bowls and a national championship . It was a special time to be a Trojan and I feel blessed to have lived that experience.”
USC held off Ohio State 18-17 in that game to earn a share of the national title and defeated Michigan 14-6 two years later.
When Simmrin, who finished his four-year USC career with 100 receptions and 14 touchdowns for 2,015 yards, a still Pacific 12 Conference record 20.15 yards per catch, looks back at each level, he sees personal growth.
“As I evolved through the years and levels of football, the experience changed as well,” he said. “I can honestly say that of all the years I played football, my most enjoyable memories come from my days as a Burbank Viking. The pureness of the game and the innocence of the people involved made it a special place in time. We were playing for each other. We all had the same dream. Just a bunch of little kids working together.”
Simmrin, whose prep career highlight came as a senior when he scored two touchdowns in a CIF Southern Section quarterfinal game against La Mirada, which hadn’t allowed a touchdown all season, continued: “High school is great and had that hometown feel. But peer pressure and community pressure start to creep in slowly,” he said. “At first it seems like just a lot more support, but it evolves as well. Pressure grows and there is now much more on the line. College scholarships are on the line, community pride, school pride and the first lessons in politics. The oranges and snacks that parents bring to youth games at halftime give way to after game parties.”
Simmrin added: “The college experience is very much like the high school experience except on some kind of extreme steroid. The pressure comes from every direction. The competition is so fierce that the team concept you learned in the past gets lost from time to time,” he said. “You are now in a cut-throat or do-or-die situation. This is a grow-up and face reality moment. You are tested in college in so many ways. Bribes, agents, the press all coming your way. Keeping your feet on the ground becomes a priority. The transition to professional football is more profound. No longer a game for fun. It becomes a job. It becomes a production with live actors. The good old days playing with friends and just looking forward to going to Shakey’s Pizza after the game become a lost memory, but never forgotten.”
With the coronavirus still around, it has interfered with Simmrin at a few levels.
“I think it is safe to say that COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. I continue to volunteer coach football,” he said. “I have spent the last couple of years coaching freshman football at Carlsbad High School. Normally this time of year we are in the middle of our season. There has been no football because of the virus. I miss the interaction that is football. I miss helping others have their football experience.”
Simmrin continued: “On the business side of things my company had to close down two large community rooms at properties in San Diego due to the virus,” he said. “Those closures end our efforts to close the technological gap that some of our low income residents suffer. Without access to the computers some students and adults are at a disadvantage. We hope to get them back.”
Simmrin said he was assisted during and after his football career by too many people to mention, but two stood out.
“After going to Ram games with my father, I asked to play football. I was very skinny and timid so my father did not think it was a good idea,” he said. “I always missed the sign ups each year. The bar my father hung out in on Sunset [Boulevard] and Crescent Heights had a bartender who was an ex-football player named Don Butcher. Don heard about my desire to play and came by one day to pick me up and take me down for sign ups.”
Simmrin continued: “Don Butcher never left my life from that point on and has been by my side. That day he took me to sign ups was the turning point in my life,” he said. “He stopped bartending and became a coach. He even had a stop at Burroughs before going on to the Boston Patriots’ front office. He came back to California and coached at Saddleback College for many years. He is a part of my family forever.”
Simmrin spoke about the other angel. “When I was making the transition from football to the real business world, I received help from a most unusual source. Since I was a USC football player you would not expect UCLA booster Sam Gilbert to be my business mentor, but he was. We had a mutual friend in UCLA basketball player and Crescenta Valley Falcon, Brad Holland. I met Brad playing for the East Valley Trojans and he was part of the group that came over to the Vikings, but missed that year with knee soreness. Sam was a man of great depth and kindness. He guided me through the most difficult time of my life. The fact that he cared enough to help me was immense. He was a teacher of men and I, the pupil.”