Maybe there was something in those lucky puka shells that Markques Simas' mother brought him before the Texas A&M game.
Simas, Colorado's sophomore wide receiver, had been beset by struggles and bad luck since he arrived at college. But the talisman brought from her recent trip to Hawaii seemed to transform Simas’ fortunes as soon as he started wearing them.
“I wore them to the hotel before the game and then everything seemed to change,” Simas said with a chuckle. “That might have been the reason.”
Or it might have been the product of Simas’ hard work, preparation and his patience. But whatever the cause, Simas erupted for a career-best seven receptions for 135 yards, bringing an element of a vertical game that helped spark the Buffaloes’ wild 35-34 comeback victory over Texas A&M.
Simas was one of the top recent recruits at Colorado after a standout career at Mira Mesa High School in San Diego. But he never could get a shot at playing time after sitting out the 2007 season as a redshirt, missing last season while he was academically ineligible. His hopes for playing time were set back when he was suspended for the first two games of this season for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
“It feels good to be able to come back and produce,” Simas said. “I feel like I wasted a year on some dumb things. It’s just rewarding to come back and do some things to help us out. I wanted to show it just wasn’t hype -- that I could fulfill what everybody was saying about me.”
The big game against the Aggies enabled him to more than double his previous yearly receiving total for any previous game. And his knack for making big plays was critical in enabling Colorado to overcome an 11-point halftime lead and a 10-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter.
His breakout game appears to have brought some explosiveness back to a Colorado team that has struggled making big plays all season. Scotty McKnight has been the Buffaloes’ top receiver, but the 6-foot-2, 215 Simas can stretch defenses as well as outfight them for positioning.
Working with quarterback Tyler Hansen, Simas seems to have made an immediate connection with the Buffaloes’ new starter.
It showed last week when he produced key catches of 47 and 45 yards that ranked as the two longest passes of the season for the Buffaloes. The 45-yarder came on a key third-and-16 late in the fourth quarter, setting up Colorado’s game-winning touchdown on the next play.
“I felt like I’m a guy who can stretch the field and open the offense up a little bit,” Simas said. “Almost every other team was double-covering Scotty. It also helps our running game. They can’t load up the box like they have before, so it lets us be more balanced and play to our potential.”
Coach Dan Hawkins, who also doubles as Simas’ position coach, said he has been pleased with his recent surge but expects much more.
"I thought it was great, what he is capable of, but we also talk about things that happen in the game that he can do and do better,” Hawkins said. “That's just kind of the approach we take with him, but it was great for him to break out a little bit.”
The late charge enabled Colorado to keep its flickering bowl hopes alive. The 3-6 Buffaloes could still win the Big 12 North if they can win out and Kansas State loses its last two games.
Their first step will come Saturday at Iowa State, where the Cyclones will be attempting to earn bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2005 with a victory. A loss would eliminate the Buffaloes from bowl contention.
“We’ve got an urgency coming into the game, but we’re very confident coming into Iowa State,” Simas said. “We still feel like we have a lot to play for.”
A similar resolve has marked Simas’ attitude since his return.
“Coming here definitely helped me mature,” Simas said. “I came in here young, dumb and worried about a lot of other things. But what I’ve gone through has given me an urgency to produce. There’s no time to waste.”