Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Former St. John’s Christian Academy football coach Bill McCall was a teammate of the late Antonio Simmons in 1994 and 1996 when Berkeley High School won a pair of state championships. McCall was the quarterback on the 1996 team when Simmons played at safety.
He called Simmons a lifelong friend and teammate who pushed the team to higher ground with his competitive drive and spirit.
“I’ve known Antonio since third grade,” McCall said. “We started playing ball together at recess and I will always remember how the teachers made us stop playing tackle in the fourth grade because of all the bloody noses.”
When teachers took away their football, the guys got creative.
“We resorted to using tennis balls and sometimes I even remember a pine cone,” McCall said. “Even at that age Antonio was a special athlete and a fierce competitor. He used to keep a log of who won what games at recess.”
McCall said no one loved playing Berkeley football more than Antonio.
“His competitive and friendly spirit never ceased,” McCall said. “He loved Stags football and you could tell this from the way he played. His intensity, his work ethic, and his teammate-oriented personality made him the type of player and person he was. He always believed his teammates could make something happen and he always believed in me.”
According to McCall, Simmons had an easygoing nature coupled with a competitive intensity.
“The most down time I could remember as an athlete was in the playoffs my junior year when I threw four second half interceptions,” he said. “It is easy for teenagers to point fingers and give someone a hard time, but I remember the one person who came up to me after the game was Antonio. He hugged me and said, ‘Bill, that’s what happens on third and long.’
“It is just the kind of person he was, always positive, always looking to get better, always wanting his teammates to get better.”
McCall remembered when Berkeley played Richland Northeast in 1996 in Columbia. The game with the Big 16 school was a war.
“We lost the previous week and losing isn’t something Berkeley accepted in the mid 90’s,” he said. “I remember we missed on a fourth and short at midfield with three minutes left in the game. Richland had a stud at running back and they gave it to him on the first play. When that happened Antonio came up from his safety position and took the ball from him. When the offense came back on the field, he said to all of us, ‘We don’t lose at Berkeley.’”
The Stags won the game in the final seconds.
“That is who was: a hardworking man with intensity,” McCall said. “He will be greatly missed by many, and I know the rest of our teammates from high school are just as shocked as I am. Everyone needs to remember that when the lights went out on Friday nights, Antonio was a winner.”