The 2020 college football season was heavily impacted by the ongoing pandemic. As conferences and teams were forced to postpone or cancel their seasons altogether, thousands of players around the nation were left in limbo.
One of those players was Shane Simpson. After spending five years at Towson, Simpson found himself in a difficult situation. After Towson canceled their season, Simpson had to decide whether or not he would enter the 2021 NFL Draft immediately, or play one final season elsewhere.
Simpson decided to play one more season of college football before making the leap to the next level. Up until 2020, Simpson’s collegiate career hardly went as planned as he encountered several injuries. He saw this as an opportunity to improve his draft stock.
Simpson went on to transfer to Virginia for the 2020 season in an attempt to answer the questions that scouts had next to his name.
I talked to Simpson about his journey from Towson to Virginia, why he thinks it all came together for him in 2020, and asked him about his mindset as he continues to prepare for the draft.
JM: The 2020 college football season was plagued by uncertainty. That was one of the reasons that you decided to transfer from Towson to Virginia. Walk me through that decision. How did you end up at Virginia?
SS: Our season at Towson was unfortunately canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. I was a two-time captain at Towson and I was about to be a captain for the third time in 2020. That meant so much to me. The coaching staff viewed me as one of the leaders of that team. I enjoyed offering a helping hand to my teammates both on and off the field.
On the other hand, I had to think about my future and my dreams of playing in the NFL. I had to decide whether or not to enter the draft and opt out of 2020 altogether, or I could go out there and play elsewhere and give the scouts no reason to worry about my resume. I had a few injuries in the past. I wanted to play in 2020 and show the scouts that I’ve put that injury behind me. I wanted to erase the red flags that were next to my name. That’s why I decided to enter the transfer portal.
It came down to Texas and Virginia. I felt like Virginia was the better fit for me. I would have gotten a ton of experience at Texas as well, I just felt like the culture was right for me at Virginia.
JM: You touched on it a little there, but it must have been difficult to leave a place like Towson for another school after you spent five of the most important years of your life there.
SS: It was incredibly difficult. I had such a special bond with my coaches and teammates. I always wanted to win a conference championship at Towson. That thought was in the back of my mind when I made my decision to transfer. It stung. I felt like we had a shot to win the conference in 2018. We didn’t reach that goal and I blame myself for that. I’m a competitor. I wanted to come back in 2019 and 2020 to make up for that. God had other plans. With everything that was going on with COVID-19, it was out of my control.
JM: Everything happened so fast. What were those first few weeks like at Virginia?
SS: It wasn’t that big of a transition for me. I knew a lot of people there already. One of my closest friends, De’Vante Cross, was already there. He plays safety and we grew up playing football together. I already knew all about the culture at Virginia. I knew what to expect. Everybody welcomed me with open arms. I was very appreciative of that, especially because I came in so late. I missed a week of camp because I had to quarantine upon arrival. Everybody was so nice to me.
JM: This was your sixth season. You felt like you had one last chance to prove something to the scouts. You wanted to answer questions about your health and you really checked off a lot of boxes this year. You were healthy, you played in 10 games. You had a terrific year. How important do you think it was for you to stay healthy and prove that your injuries are a thing of the past?
SS: I was coming off major knee surgery with my ACL and MCL. Scouts wanted to see if I was back to myself. They wanted to know if I was going to be hindered, both physically and mentally. It was big for me to go out there and play care-free football. I wasn’t worried about getting hurt. I was productive. I averaged more than five yards per carry. I didn’t let the injury mess with me mentally. It was a big year for me. I proved a lot of things to a lot of people. I came to a Power 5 school, a new school for me, and I did what I had to. Injuries are out of my control but I did the right things to keep my body right. Staying healthy and playing every game was huge for me.
JM: I’m curious if you made any changes to your personal habits? Why do you think you were able to stay healthy this year?
SS: I wouldn’t say that I made any drastic changes. I was very picky with my diet throughout the season. I was coming off a surgery, so obviously I was a little heavier. I was just trying to get the strength back in my knee. I was 210 pounds when I came to camp. I dropped down to about 202, which is a lot closer to my playing weight. I hovered between 198 and 202 throughout the season. I felt great.
JM: You mentioned that Virginia is a Power 5 school. There’s a difference between playing at Towson and playing at Virginia. You went from the CAA to the ACC. What was the biggest difference that you noticed?
SS: I say this all the time. Even when I was at Towson, we always noticed a difference when we played against the bigger schools. The biggest difference that I saw was the talent pool of offensive and defensive linemen. They have a lot more scholarships as well. You definitely see more elite athletes in the ACC. That was the biggest change for me. I may be biased, but I do think that the CAA is the best conference at the FCS level. A lot of FCS guys want to play in the CAA.
JM: The NFL Scouting Combine isn’t going to look the same this year. This entire process will be heavily impacted by the pandemic. Things are going to be happening virtually more often than not. How do you plan to navigate through those challenges?
SS: I’m just gonna keep my head down and get to work. I’m training at TEST Football Academy in New Jersey. I’m getting in some great work with the guys down there. I’m so thankful for them because they nitpick about every little thing. They pay such close attention to things like our stance for the 40-yard dash, the L-drill, the five-ten-five, and things of that nature. They nitpick everything. I love that about them. They’re making me a better athlete right now. The atmosphere is friendly but it’s very competitive. We’re all working toward the same goal. It’s a great atmosphere. When the time comes for my Pro Day, I’ll be ready.
JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today, Shane. In closing, what kind of impact is Shane Simpson going to make at the next level?
SS: I’m going to make a huge impact. I’m not just a traditional running back. I can catch passes coming out of the backfield as well. You can motion me out to the slot. I can be your bell cow if that’s what you need me to be. I also add value on special teams as a kick and punt returner. Check my resume, I’ve done it all. It’s all on tape. I plan on being the same player in the NFL. I want to be on the field as much as possible.