Simmons living his best FAMU life as Lincoln comes to town

Athletic director Tiffani-Dawn Sykes (left) celebrated FAMU’s winning of the SWAC East Division Trophy with coach Willie Simmons after Saturday’s win in Alabama.
Photo by Kyrease Desseau

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Before clinching a 42-28 victory over Alabama A&M, the FAMU football team squandered an early three score lead.

Previously, there were games in which the Rattlers struggled in the first half to win on their way to clinching the East Division title in the SWAC. The team sits at 8-1 overall and 7-0 in conference play.

None of the hiccups that the Rattlers have had is bound to happen when they play their final game at home on Ken Riley Field at Bragg Stadium on Saturday. The odds are too much in the Rattlers’ favor – they are on a 17-game home winning streak, they are unbeaten in conference play this year and the defense is playing scary football in November.

The message to his players this week has been to avoid underestimating the Oaklanders, a Division II team that is coming with a winless record in 11 games.

“We can’t sleep and play down to their level,” Simmons said. “We are peaking at the right time and we can’t do anything to take away from that ability to peak at this time of the year. The guys understand what’s at stake.
“We respect Lincoln regardless what their record is. We can’t take this team for granted and say, ‘hey, we’ll play our freshmen and young guys and our back-up and sit the rest of the guys. We are not going to do that. We are going to play to win.”
The game comes on Seniors Day. It also comes a week after Simmons received the trophy for clinching the East Division.
In a sense, it’s a full-circle period for Simmons who is living his best FAMU experience. Never mind that it has taken two decades.
Simmons wanted to become a Rattler in 2003 after graduating from Clemson. He participated in a few practices with then-coach Billy Joe’s program before learning that he couldn’t make the move.
FAMU’s unsuccessful bid to move to Division I football detoured Simmons’ plans.
Now he has the program on the verge of winning the SWAC championship for a berth in the Celebration Bowl against the best team from the MEAC.
Simmons credited his staff and his players for the moment that he is enjoying.
“I just keep my head down and do the job the good lord has blessed me to do,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work at some amazing places; non more special to me that Florida A&M. This place really made my family who we are today. It home for us.”
Simmons coached on the local high school level before he landed a collegiate assistant job and eventually became head coach at Prairie View A&M. FAMU hired him in 2018, three years after he applied but didn’t get the job.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens on God’s time,” he said. “I wanted to be here in 2003, my family wanted me to be her. Rattlers nation wanted me to be here. It wasn’t my time.”
Most FAMU fans wouldn’t have know anything about the Lincoln University football team if it wasn’t on the schedule this season. The team formed in 2021 and had played most of its games on the road.

Saturday’s game against the Rattlers will be Lincoln’s third against a SWAC team. They have lost 45-18 Southern and 52-7 to Texas Southern this season. The Oaklanders ended up on FAMU’s schedule when they turned out to be available for the last home game date.

“The timing of it is really, really perfect,” Simmons said. “It’s not a conference game and it doesn’t really have any bearing on our overall winning streak. We wanted to play at home and Lincoln gave us an opportunity to do that.”The game is also an opportunity for Simmons to go deep into his list of reserves. Perhaps as deep as third-string players, he said.“They’ve earned it,” he said. “They’ve worked extremely hard and I would like to see those guys get those opportunities throughout the game.”

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