“I was 6 years old,” said Simon, the outstanding two-sport star who just recently graduated from St. Peter’s Prep. “I was a receiver and safety at first, but then they moved me to become an offensive lineman. I just played my role, but I always thought that I was pretty fast.”
Simon’s life changed dramatically before the last game of that initial season.
“One of the quarterbacks didn’t show up for the last game,” Simon said. “So they moved me to quarterback. I was a quarterback wearing No. 54. That’s how it all started.”
The coaches in the youth football league in Montclair, where the Simon family resided at the time, decided to move Simon to the critical position of signal caller. Needless to say, Simon was never to be an offensive lineman ever again.
Simon remained a quarterback all the way into high school after enrolling at St. Peter’s four years ago. In fact, Simon played quarterback as a freshman.
There was only one problem. In Prep’s arsenal of quarterbacks at the time was also Brandon Wimbush, currently the starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame, and Maasai Maynor, the highly regarded QB who will return for his senior year at Prep in the fall and will be among the top quarterbacks in the state this coming season.
So Simon had to find another position to play at Prep.
“I just looked at it as an opportunity to get on the field elsewhere,” Simon said. “I just went from there.”
“He had this toughness and discipline about him,” said Prep long-time head football coach and athletic director Rich Hansen. “I tell everyone that he’s a one-man personnel package, because he’s talented enough to play anywhere. He had that kind of versatility and you have to be a special kid to be able to do that.”
In fifth grade, Simon began to play the sport of basketball as well.
“I was just a tall kid, taller than most of the others my age,” Simon said. “I had the ability to make right-handed layups and not much more. I did play defense well, so that helped me fall in love with the game. I rolled what I learned in football into basketball and worked on the skill factor of basketball.”
Simon worked his way on to the famed Hilltopper Heat AAU basketball program, based in Montclair, and soon developed into a fine basketball player.
“I really didn’t know what my future held,” Simon said. “So I continued to do both in high school.”
Simon was so proficient as a basketball player that he was a starter on the Prep varsity team when he was a freshman.
“The first time I met Shayne, I saw that he was a 6-foot-2 athlete,” said Prep head basketball coach Alex Mirabel. “We were doing a drill and Shayne snuck in and did the drill, but didn’t do it well. He looked at me very disappointed, but I could tell he was going to be a player for us.”
So Simon continued playing both football and basketball through his four years at St. Peter’s Prep. And Simon didn’t just play. He excelled like no other before him.
In football, Simon was a two-way standout, playing wide receiver on offense and outside linebacker on defense. On offense this past season, Simon caught 54 passes for nearly 900 yards and scored six touchdowns. On defense, he collected 65 tackles, secured four interceptions and returned one of those interceptions for a score, leading the Marauders to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship game.
Simon had two games where he secured 10 receptions, including a huge game against Seton Hall Prep, where he had 10 catches for 209 yards and scored three touchdowns in a huge win for the Marauders, playing on a field that was literally steps from his West Orange home. Simon earned Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week honors for that game.
Simon earned All-State honors in football and was named the recipient of the prestigious Maxwell Award as the state’s top defensive player. Simon was also named to the Hudson Reporter All-Area squad for the third straight season.
In basketball, Simon averaged 10.4 points, grabbed six rebounds and added three assists per game for the Marauders, helping them advance to both the county and state championship games. Simon had six games where he grabbed more than 10 rebounds and more importantly, he became only the eighth player in Prep history to ever reach the prestigious 1,000-point plateau. Later in the season, Simon’s friend and teammate Brendan Thiele became the ninth Marauder to reach the milestone.
For his efforts, Simon has been selected as the 2017-2018 Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year.
Simon is the fifth St. Peter’s Prep athlete to receive the award, which has been given annually every year since 1992, symbolic of the best athlete who participates in more than one varsity sport. It is the lone award of its kind in the area and Simon is now the 25th male recipient of the award. Simon joins prior Prep recipients as Mike Brown (2004-2005), Kevin Innis (2009-2010), Corey Caddle (2014-2015) and Jorge Portorreal, who received the award last year. It meant that three of the last four recipients of the Reporter Athlete of the Year came from St. Peter’s Prep.
Simon received his award recently from Reporter Publisher David Unger, who has been a huge supporter of the award since its infancy. (Along with long-time co-publisher Lucha Malato, Unger has recently sold his share of the Hudson Reporter Newspapers chain to Newspaper Media Group.)
Simon was more than appreciative to receive the award.
“It’s just a great honor,” said Simon, whose parents, mother Amy and father Mike, were on hand for the presentation. “Jorge is like my brother and seeing that Corey did it as well makes it a tremendous honor. There are many tremendous athletes in Hudson County. I never thought I’d be up there with the best. My coaches made sure that they could make it happen. I had a lot of fun playing the two sports. I was glad I was able to make the most of it.”
Simon’s coaches sang their athlete’s praises.
“We’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have had some great athletes,” Hansen said. “Shayne is so unique in so many ways. I can’t say enough about his toughness. He came to us as a quarterback and safety and he’s become an All-American linebacker and a receiver. I can’t begin to think about what he’s going to be like as a full-time football player for the first time in his life. He’ll be eating, breathing, living football for the first time. He has a chance to be one of the most dominant football players. He has all the tools now that football has his undivided attention. He has that kind of grit and toughness.”
“It’s amazing to have that kind of athleticism,” Mirabel said. “He carries himself like he’s a pro. He wanted to be the best basketball player he could be and not just a football player. His main sport is obviously football, but he has to be considered one of the best basketball players Prep ever had. He’s a tremendous basketball player, in the elite category. Sometimes, I would just admire Shayne and what he’s done for us. I enjoyed watching him play. He was a great leader for us. His leadership abilities are unique.”
Added Mirabel, “After the season was over, he thanked me and told me that he appreciated me. That’s the type of kid he is. I couldn’t believe he said thank you. He’s so unique.”
Simon will take his tremendous talents to South Bend and Notre Dame very soon. He will be part of the Fighting Irish football program along with the Ademilola twins, Justin and Jayson, as well as Wimbush, who will be back for his final year with the Fighting Irish.
No question, the Fighting Irish coaching staff already has big plans for Simon as a linebacker. Who knows? Maybe the day will come in a few years that Simon hears his name called at the NFL Draft, much like former Marauder Minkah Fitzpatrick did with the Miami Dolphins last month.
“I’m not going to lie,” Simon said. “I’ve dreamed about it. To see what he’s been able to do is inspiring. I’m just tremendously impressed and humbled by his success. I hope I can be the next one in line.”
The pieces are all in place.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.