John Simon (54) wraps up Michigan State running back Edwin Baker during a game last season in Columbus. Simon had seven sacks and 17 tackles for a loss last year to earn All-Big Ten honors.
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CHICAGO -- Urban Meyer evoked double takes recently when he designated Ohio State defensive end John Simon as "Tebowish."
It was high praise. For Meyer, his Heisman-winning former quarterback at Florida represents a once-in-a-generation standard in his dedication.
But on second thought, the first-year OSU coach reconsidered the comparison to Tim Tebow.
"I should say Tebow is Simonish, out of respect," Meyer said, smiling.
Asked where Simon ranked among his hardest workers in 27 years of coaching, Meyer replied, "He is 1 and 1A."
Meyer has been at Ohio State for just eight months, and already he knows Simon will be the leader of a defense with nine returning starters. He knows the All-Big Ten senior who can bench press 225 pounds 48 times -- the record at the NFL combine is 49 repetitions -- well enough to have long ceased asking his staff for Simon's progress reports. He knows Simon will be a confidant for life.
"Just incredible character," Meyer said Friday at the Big Ten media days. "He's got a job any time he wants. I hope he goes and plays football for 20 years, and then when he's done, he says, 'Coach, I need a job.' "
Like Tebow, Meyer believes Simon is the type of player whose example can help fashion a team in his vision.
That example is set on Saturdays in the fall, where the 6-foot-2, 265-pound rusher had seven sacks and 17 tackles for a loss last season. But more important to Meyer are the ways it comes through the rest of the year.
Simon is a worker of whose ilk players and coaches have never seen.
The Youngstown native began weightlifting in fourth grade, following the lead of his iron-pumping father, John Simon III. He came to live for the struggle of pushing his body to its edge.
When a reporter asked Simon during a news conference this week what he did for fun over the summer, he noted his morning workouts. Each day, Simon sets his alarm to 4:30 a.m. for a 6 a.m. lifting session at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Meyer, seated on the podium to Simon's left, laughed.
"As bizarre as it sounds, that's his answer," he said.
"If you're going into workouts and not having a good time, you're not reaching your full potential of what you can achieve," Simon said. "I'm not saying they're not hard, but the physical pain and the mental pain you have to go through to endure those workouts is what makes it fun."
Who is this guy? Who does this? Meyer made sure his teammates found out.
Simon's predawn lifting sessions to start 18-hour days of school and football -- he said he sleeps five-and-a-half hours per night -- led to the creation of the John Simon Rule. Simon, the first player in the weight room each day, is no longer able to arrive alone, which means he began dragging teammates out of bed. Among the regulars are sophomore linebackers Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant and freshman defensive end Noah Spence.
"Here's a true freshman learning from the best," Meyer said. "Now [Simon] is giving something back to the team. Him going lifting at 6 a.m. does nothing for our team. It does something for him. But this is not an individual sport."
The only rub is no teammate -- and likely no college player in the nation -- can keep up with his pace. Take the end of his workouts when Simon pulls out a pair of dumbbells for bicep curls.
"We're just blown out from upper body, and we'll be curling 50 pounds," said senior fullback Zach Boren, a fellow weight-room fixture. "It's hard because your arms are dead. John will give out a big yell, call us some names, and pull out the 80s and start rubbing it in our face."
Senior linebacker Etienne Sabino joked, "He wakes up and thinks about bicep curls." Only it was not a joke.
"He just told me his dad texts him every morning with things like 'great arm workout,' " Meyer said. "So I know where he gets it now. His dad is out of his mind just like he is. Great family."
Simon's aim now is to make sure his teammates burn with the same fire as Ohio State seeks to make amends for last year's 6-7 season, though perhaps such expectations are unfair. There is only one John Simon.
"John Simon is like nobody I've ever met," junior left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate and one of Simon's closest friends, said earlier this summer. "I probably never will meet anybody like him again, the way he works and his dedication. That's the kind of dude, when you get older, you talk about and say, 'Wow, I've never met another guy like him.' "
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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