Virginia’s high school football Player of the Year in 1976. Not bad. Recruited by some of the region’s premier college football programs. Even better.
But for Jim Simpson, Simpson Scouting’s Founder that’s where the good news ended — or so it seemed — in 1976.
“My story should have been an athletic success story,” said Jim, 56. “It’s definitely not the success story I’d want anyone else to experience. It’s a painful past, but a good reason why our playing sons and so many of the athletes I’ve helped have been successful. I worked very hard on the process for all of them and I’m passionate about helping other potential student athletes avoid the nuances of the recruiting game.” I’m amazed that so many families don’t believe being advised is valuable. They’re soon to learn what’s coming.
After leading Falls Church High School to the Virginia state 3A championship game (3A was tops in 1976) Jim was one of the top quarterback recruits in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Back then, it was D1 or bust where we came from, so everyone headed for the biggest, brightest lights,” Jim said. “Only problem, I wasn’t quite used to sitting the bench, was a bit immature at the time and I could have had a much more successful career had I simply stayed put and worked harder. I had originally signed at D1 William & Mary, a school I believed I’d do well at as a student/athlete.” But, W&M later pulled back the scholarship. “I was never given the reason why.”
National Letter of Intent rules in the mid- to late-’70’s were much different than today’s far more rigid requirements. But, it was still early enough to consider other offers so Jim did.
He signed a second NLI, this time with another in-state program, Virginia Military Institute, but once again the vagaries of how the NLI worked allowed Army to come calling and recruit Jim away from VMI. “I was truly set to go off and play in Lexington when the phone rang once again. Looking back at this today…it’s easier to see why the confusion probably had an affect on how things proceeded afterwards. Sure seemed like playing football could get you in and out as you pleased and that ultimately didn’t help me much.”
U.S. military academies were exceptions to most all recruiting rules at the time and the staff at Army, knowing about Jim’s stellar high school career, jumped at the chance to land him. “I thought the discipline would be good for me at a military academy and choosing Army over VMI at the time made sense. I soon realized, I knew very little about military life and my time at West Point proved to be a crash course that I’d truly come to appreciate later in life.” At the time, Army’s No. 2 signal-caller transferred to Virginia Tech, his fourth D1 school in less than a year out of high school. “I arrived in the spring of ’78 and fortunately, I’d be eligible to play the next season so things seemed good to go.” In those days playing football sure seemed to provide all the options a naive 18-yr. old could ask for!
Finally, Jim thought he was back on track. Not so fast. Virginia Tech’s entire coaching staff was fired following the 1977 season. New Head Coach Bill Dooley after his arrival said openly to the press that, “He didn’t expect to win the first year because the players weren’t his.” Not exactly a good omen for a walk-on transfer but as a backup QB Jim was put on scholarship that summer “to keep me there training” and then back to walk-on status in the fall. “I began to see that playing college ball was all business.” So, Jim started looking again for a spot to land and stay. He chose West Virginia University. “We had played WVU in Blacksburg in the fall of ’78 and I felt like I could compete there and do well but knew I would have to give up a years eligibility. So that’s what I did.”
In the spring game of ’80 Jim started at free safety for the Mountaineers (the coaches had moved him to play defense), but something went awry again before the start of the ’80 season. Jim’s quarter-based courses at Virginia Tech would not provide him the credit hours he needed to be academically eligible in WVU’s semester-based system. “On the day I was leaving for Morgantown, I received a phone call from legendary WVU coach Don Nehlen. He told me the NCAA had just declared me ineligible and that “he was truly sorry”, but there was nothing for him to do. That was it. The dream was over “and you can trust me you truly only get one chance!”
“It was really tough.” Jim resigned himself to the fact that football unbelievably wasn’t in his future.
“I use my life lesson and make it my business to help others do what’s needed so they can be successful and live their dream,” Jim said. “I never enjoy thinking about what should have been, but my experience does motivate me to keep all of my athletes from repeating any part of my story. At 18 years old, I didn’t know the process and today I definitely see that most athletes and their families need more than just a little guidance. My experience suggests I could have used some help myself and now I’m able to share what I know with my players and their families today. The greater issue these days is the cost of college, parents involvement related to play levels and what people will do and say in their attempt to make their owns’ dream real. I just don’t wish for any potential student/athletes or their parents to learn about the recruiting process the way I did.” Finding a place to play was the easy part and in today’s landscape people tend to believe that’s all they need to do. It’s just not the case.