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Clemson has not said if Woody Dantzler or Willie Simmons will start at QB.
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000
HOMECOMING: n. A college football game, usually against a clearly inferior opponent, that enables boosters and alumni to arrive and leave happy.
Willie Simmons is coming home -- to anything but a homecoming.
Clemson's redshirt freshman quarterback from the Tallahassee suburb of Quincy will be on the field -- and very likely in the huddle -- Saturday night for the Tigers' game against fourth-ranked Florida State with the Atlantic Coast Conference championship on the line.
If Woody Dantzler can't play because of an injured left ankle that forced him to leave the Tigers' past two games, Simmons will make his first college start just 20 miles from where he played at Shanks High School.
"That would be a dream come true to me," he said. "This is what I waited for when I came to college."
That said, Simmons expects to be buried once or twice -- or more -- under Florida State's defense. "I know I'm going to take my hits," he said, "because they've got great players over there, NFL prospects all over the field. ... There might even be a little more interest in burying me because I came from around there."
Despite the injured ankle, Dantzler remains coach Tommy Bowden's No. 1 quarterback.
"We're stronger with Woody," he said. "If he's healthy, he'll play, he'll start."
Dantzler returned to practice Wednesday. Said Bowden: "He got the percentage of snaps like a No. 1 quarterback would. ... He could be over 90 percent by game day." Trainer Danny Poole said Thursday he expects Bowden will announce Saturday's starter "just before game time."
Dantzler is the 10th-ranked Tigers' leading rusher with 841 yards, 90 more than Travis Zachery, and a 6.5-yards-per-carry average (to Simmons' 39 yards and 2.1-yard average). Dantzler gives Clemson "another skill guy," Bowden said. "Willie gives us a quarterback. Woody, if he's 100 percent, gives us another running back as well as a quarterback. Without him, we lose a little bit of the high-performance (running) skill."
Virtually all that running is by design, Bowden said. "We make those decisions, whether he runs or throws. He doesn't make any of them. We design the running plays. Now, if his protection breaks down, he'll scramble. But we'll make the decision on how often he runs and how often he'll throw, based upon ... the defense."
FSU coach Bobby Bowden, Tommy's father, said the Seminoles are preparing for Dantzler and Simmons "because it looks like they're getting more confident with Simmons and they're not afraid at all to put him in there. And when he goes in there, it looks like he belongs. We'll study the styles of both players and try to have a plan for both."
With each Clemson scholarship player allotted four tickets to the FSU game, Simmons has been bartering for as many as he can get, offering next season's tickets, even sacrificing his tickets to the South Carolina game, the season finale in two weeks. By Saturday, he said, he figures he'll be buried under 100 or more requests from family and friends.
Simmons passed for four touchdowns as Clemson rallied to beat North Carolina 38-24 two weeks ago, prompting Tar Heels coach Carl Torbush to observe: "He came in and did a great job for them, got them in position to win. ... If Woody Dantzler wasn't there, (Simmons) would do very, very nicely in their offense. The thing that impressed me more than anything was the composure in a pressure situation because when he came in, they were behind 17-0 and he led them to victory."
But FSU is not UNC, and Simmons knows what Doak Campbell Stadium will be like -- namely like no other stadium in the conference. He has seen it firsthand. Clemson had lost 57-0, 17-0 and 34-3 in previous ACC games at FSU. And in 1998, when Clemson was in the throes of a 3-8 season, he attended its 48-0 loss to the Seminoles at Doak Campbell as part of an FSU recruiting trip.
"I wasn't looking too high at Clemson after that," Simmons said, "but when Coach Bowden came to the school, I knew things were going to improve and wanted to be part of the rebuilding."
FSU recruited and signed two other highly touted quarterbacks that year -- Anquan Boldin from Pahokee and Fabian Walker from Americus, Ga. Boldin was moved to wide receiver and Walker, whose test scores were challenged, is at Jones County (Miss.) Junior College.
Even before that 48-0 rout in 1998, Simmons watched FSU crush visiting opponents. The year after high school teammate Abdual Howard left for FSU (he's a junior defensive back), Simmons was invited to a game at Doak Campbell. "I'd watched games (on television); I'd been around the tradition all my life, but this was the first time I was seeing all that garnet and gold and tomahawking and roaring," Simmons said.
"We don't have a chop or anything; we just spell out Clemson the whole game. That tomahawk can be intimidating at times."
- Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.