April 28, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Ko Simpson (2004-2005) was never afraid to go the extra mile to prove himself. The former South Carolina defensive back continued to do just that even after his NFL career ended by driving each day from his home in Indian Land, S.C., back to the Columbia campus for classes so he can graduate through the University’s Degree Completion Program.
“You have to have knowledge,” Simpson said. “That’s the key. When I was growing up there were probably a lot of people who thought I’d never finish school. They didn’t think I’d go to college. They probably didn’t think I’d play pro football, either. They’d say I was too little or that I was too skinny. You just have stay focused and prove people wrong. You go from high school to college, and you have to prove yourself all over again. You go to the NFL as a rookie, and you have to prove yourself again. That’s what life is all about; proving yourself.”
Now 33 years old, Simpson will earn his degree in Retail Management in May, and he’s looking forward to donning the cap and gown.
“It’s going to be great for my kids to see that,” Simpson said of his nine and four year old sons. “I’m just trying to set an example for my kids.
“I started coaching high school football, and I want to coach college football. You have to have a degree to do that.”
The degree completion program is part of the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise for student-athletes who left the university in good academic standing to pursue a professional career, or did not complete their degree due to personal circumstances. The program allows those former student-athletes to apply to be readmitted to come back to campus and finish their degree. As part of the program, the former Gamecocks have access to all of academic resources that were available to them as student-athletes, including tutors and the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center.
Simpson earned first team All-SEC honors in 2005 after earning second team All-SEC honors as a freshman. One of his fondest memories in the Garnet and Black occurred in his freshman season as the Gamecocks battled Georgia.
“They had David Greene at quarterback, and I picked him off and took it back to the house for a touchdown,” Simpson recalled. “When I made that play, it sort of put me on the map, and it gave me a lot of confidence.”
You have to have something to fall back on. If you have that degree, that’s something they can’t take away from you.
Having the opportunity to play under head coach Lou Holtz in his first year and head coach Steve Spurrier in his second year, Simpson believes that his time at South Carolina helped prepare him for the NFL.
“The SEC is just so fast,” Simpson said. “You get to the pros, and everyone is fast. Playing in the SEC helped me get to the league. I had the chance to play with guys like Jonathan Joseph and Fred Bennett. All of us played there together, and we all ended up in the NFL. It was a great experience to play at South Carolina. For a defensive back, that was the place to go.”
Simpson was selected by Buffalo in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft and worked his way into the starting lineup in the second week of his rookie season. After three years with the Bills, he was traded to the Detroit Lions where he suffered a knee injury which caused him to have microfracture surgery and ended his playing career. With two years of school work to complete after being removed from going to classes for a decade, Simpson had to adjust to life as a student again.
“That’s hard,” Simpson laughed. “Everyone there embraced me like I had never left. The students, the professors, and everyone there in the athletics office helped make the transition as smooth as possible. Just driving there from Indian Land for class and back home every day, that was pretty hard.
“Everything is on a computer now, too. When I was here the first time, you were handed a syllabus, and now you look up everything online. I’m the old guy a lot of times in class.”
Even with the challenges, Simpson did enjoy some free time that he didn’t always have as a student-athlete since he no longer had practices, film sessions and other football related commitments to attend on a daily basis.
“Now, once class ends, I’m free,” Simpson said. “I remember the days of getting up early to work out, then going to class, then practice, and then going to study hall. I don’t miss that part!”
Now that he is about to graduate, Simpson is looking forward to the next step in his career.
“You have to have something to fall back on,” Simpson said. “If you have that degree, that’s something they can’t take away from you. For people who leave early, you’ll hear other people say that they have nothing to fall back on, but ten years later, I’m back at South Carolina. Now I’m earning my degree. It’s a really good thing that they offer us here.”
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