MACON — Bryson Kelly was in fifth grade when Jeffery Simmons won his final state championship at Noxubee County High School.
That was 2015, when Simmons capped a four-year run with the Tigers featuring three MHSAA titles.
Kelly idolized Simmons then. Not much has changed.
“I look up to him now,” said Kelly, now a senior offensive tackle for Noxubee County. “He’s my hero now.”
It was easy to see why Thursday as Simmons, a standout defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans, continued giving back to his alma mater.
After two years bearing his name, Noxubee County’s practice facility was officially dedicated in Simmons’ honor Thursday afternoon as the Jeffery B. Simmons Field House.
Gone were the bent bars and chipped weights Simmons remembered from his time at the school. Gone was the peeling paint. Everything was brand new for a Tigers team in need — all thanks to Simmons.
“My goal was to make this field house look brand new by putting new weights in it, trying to get a new paint job and all that,” Simmons said.
It was a goal Simmons said he held ever since getting to the NFL as a first-round pick in 2019. He kept his old school’s substandard equipment and shoddy practice fields in mind as he signed a rookie contract worth more than $12 million.
Helping out the Tigers was always on Simmons’ mind.
“How can I give back to Noxubee County football and to the school?” the star lineman wondered.
In the Tigers’ field house, he found his answer. It took a while to get everything together, but the original facility — built in 2004 — looked brand new. Gleaming weight racks, new chairs and a TV adorned the inside of the newly painted building.
And on a table off to the side sat Noxubee County’s pride and joy: five gold football-shaped trophies awarded for winning MHSAA crowns. The Tigers won all of them between 2008 and 2017.
Next up for Noxubee County is a place to display its hardware, but for now, Simmons hopes the sight of Mississippi high school football’s top prize can help the Tigers players in attendance Thursday.
“Hopefully they can use that as motivation,” Simmons said, pointing at the display. “That right there shows that it’s bigger than just the new weights. Hopefully that can motivate them to keep winning championships here at Noxubee. That’s the goal: keep winning.”
In a standout career in Macon, that’s what Simmons did. Playing on offense as well as along the D-line, he helped spur the Tigers to a 51-10 record from 2012 to 2015. Noxubee County went a perfect 16-0 when Simmons was a freshman and won titles again in his junior and senior years.
And the Tigers did it without the advantages they now enjoy thanks to Simmons. The team’s slogan? “Get it out (of) the mud.”
“It was always hard,” Simmons said. “No one ever complained. That’s why we’ve got as many championships as we’ve got right now.”
Simmons hopes for more medals in Macon, part of the reason he made an investment in his former program. And it’s far from his only investment in his home community.
On Friday, Simmons will use his oversized golden scissors to cut another ribbon — this one in Starkville, where he played college football. He will be the namesake of a new turf football field at the Starkville Sportsplex, where Simmons will host his third annual camp Friday and Saturday.
Seeing Simmons’ generosity — particularly in Macon — means a lot, Noxubee County coach Teddy Young said.
“It means a lot for him to give back to the place where he started. To keep helping these young guys to grow, to be a mentor to them — I know he has a busy schedule, but he’s always giving back to us,” Young said. “That’s amazing for us.”
Just take it from Kelly, who not only watched Simmons in high school but saw him suit up for the Bulldogs.
Kelly has seen his idol in action in the NFL, too. He’s not even a Titans fan, but …
“I’m a Jeffery Simmons fan,” Kelly said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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