by Mike Bruscas
Jason Simonson knows all about living for the moment. As a reserve offensive lineman, sometimes a moment is all you get.
Husky fans fondly remember the 2001 season-opening victory versus Michigan, in part for the debut of All-American Reggie Williams. Only an astute observer, however, would have noticed another Husky taking his first snap.
"My greatest moment was that first play two years ago, when Michigan was here," Simonson recalls. "I was thrown into the game when it was still on the line because of an equipment problem. I was in the huddle trying to frantically button up my chin strap, and my eyes were pretty huge, but it was great."
Simonson snapped his chinstrap in place, blocked a rushing Wolverines defensive lineman, and returned to the sidelines.
"I only got one play, but I graded out a 100 percent for the game," Simonson laughs. "I was just thinking,'This is amazing! Seventy-five thousand screaming fans and I'm on the field.'"
The drive for one more chance to prove himself is what makes Simonson able to push through the pain of practice. Simonson works just as hard every day as the linemen ahead of him on the depth chart, but without the promise of playing time on Saturday.
"Knowing that you're one play away from getting in there is what motivates you," he says. "When you're starting, you can plan ahead. For a backup, though, playing time is always in the back of your mind. You have to be ready at any moment to get in there and show what you can do."
At Olympia (Wash.) High School, Simonson found himself in a similar position, backing up an all-state caliber corps of linemen for his first three seasons. When his time finally came in 1998, Simonson shone, earning All-Rivers League honors and leading Olympia to the state playoffs.
After garnering All-State honors that season, Simonson was invited to walk on to the UW squad during the Huskies' fall camp. He had little time to enjoy the opportunity.
"Camp was insane," Simonson recalls. "One of the first days, I got paired up with [former UW All-American] Chad Ward. He looked around at the other guys and said, 'Should I do it?' Then he just threw me on the ground."
Simonson, however, jumped right back up, and has maintained that persistent optimism throughout his career.
Now that the tables are turned, Simonson uses his experience, positive attitude and sense of humor to lead in the locker room and keep teammates relaxed while remaining focused.
"I'm there a lot of times to boost morale," he says, "but I know when not to goof around. I see myself as a senior who doesn't really play, but can still lead."
This year, the Huskies' offensive line prides itself upon a no-nonsense, workman-like attitude.
"We have a little saying: 'We're a blue collar team. We bring our lunch pails,'" he says.
While Simonson may not always make his presence felt on the field, the o-line's motto manifests itself in the short-in-front, long-in-back hairstyle Simonson sports. Yes, an untamed mullet is Simonson's style of choice, complete with horizontal stripes shaved into the sides.
"Everyone loves a mullet," he laughs. "I always liked the Brian Bosworth mullet when I was growing up. Blue collar haircut, blue collar man."
Although other schools offered more playing time, Simonson dreamed only of being a Husky.
"I grew up watching Washington football," he says. "It was the only school to which I even applied."
Naturally, Simonson sometimes wonders how his career might have progressed differently had he been willing to attend a less prestigious school.
"When you come to a bigger school as a walk-on, it is always something that crosses your mind," he says. "I have no regrets, though. I think about it every now and again, but I wouldn't trade anything."
Simonson may be best known for his humorous side, but a genuine sincerity is evident when he credits his parents for supporting him along the way.
"They've made a lot of sacrifices so that I could have this experience," says Simonson. "It's just incredible. When I came here without a scholarship, it made it tough to pay my own way, but they made it work."
Statistics are not the only measure of success.
"I'm proud that I've made it, because it's hard and I've seen a lot of guys that don't," he says. "It's tough. You've got to really have it in you to make it through."
Blue collar haircut, blue collar man.