A training session at Ohio State's weight room is like a day at the beach for John Simon.
Well, sort of.
When Simon, a budding star on Ohio State's defensive line, enters the 8,000-square foot weight room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, his first stop is typically the sand pit. Simon will sprint through the sand, sometimes with a heavy tire harnessed to his waist. He'll work on drills tailored to defensive linemen, trying to get that all important burst when the ball is snapped.
The sand pit in Columbus will never be confused for Manhattan Beach, but Simon doesn't mind.
"That’s about the closest I could get," he said, "coming from Youngstown [Ohio]."
Simon got a lot closer this winter as he and his Ohio State teammates made their way to California for the Rose Bowl. If Simon keeps it up in the weight room and on the field, he and the Buckeyes likely will be making a few more trips to the coast.
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Simon appeared in 12 games as a true freshman in 2009, showing flashes with four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a pass knockdown. He's competing for a starting spot at left end or left tackle in 2010, and he's already earning respect from veteran defenders like linebacker Brian Rolle.
"If somebody's going to try to outwork him, they'll going to have to work really hard," Rolle said in April. "And he's going to outwork that effort. He's going to be a guy who will be a star here the next couple of years."
Simon's reputation stems largely from his work in the weight room. He came to Ohio State with solid credentials, including a max bench-press of 450 and a max squat of 700 as a high schooler, and has impressed coaches and teammates with his approach to workouts and training. Ohio State strength coordinator Jeff Uhlenhake calls Simon the "best total package workout guy" he's coached.
Although Simon is only a true sophomore, few in Columbus will be surprised to see him appear on colleague Bruce Feldman's list of Freaks, or workout warriors.
"I enjoy being in the weight room," Simon said. "I’m in there every day. Our whole team's like that."
Simon typically works out in the morning with his teammates and then returns in the afternoon to lift or run in the sand pit.
Despite his lofty high school bench and squat totals, Simon hasn't tried to max out yet in college, citing the need to stay healthy for the Big Ten grind. Instead, he works on his explosion by doing chain bench or band squats and improves his stamina by pulling sleds.
“I like a lot of endurance things because the games in college are very long," Simon said. "The sand pit, I really enjoy, just to get that extra quickness where the sand slows you down a little bit and builds up your legs."
Simon heads to the sand pit at least three times per week during the offseason. He hopes it pays off this fall as Ohio State aims for a national title.
"Just running in the sand, it slows you down so much," he said. "And then when you get on regular grass or turf and you’re in your spikes, you feel that much faster. I see a big difference."
Is it too early to give Simon a nickname? He might need to start a full season for the Buckeyes to one, but here's an early suggestion.