Sports

Rookie no more

Ko Simpson was a star at Rock Hill High School, helping lead the Bearcats to the Class AAAA Big 16 football championship in 2002.

Simpson signed with the University of South Carolina, but because the staff over recruited, had to wait until second semester to enroll. Once there, he quickly became a standout as a freshman and was one of the top defensive backs in the SEC for two seasons.

He was named SEC Freshman of the Year by the Associated Press, first team Freshman All-America by the Football Writers Association of America and Sporting News and all-SEC second team by the Coaches and AP.

Simpson (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) entered the NFL draft in 2006, and the Bills took him at No. 105 overall in the fourth round. He started 15-of-16 regular-season games last year at free safety.

Simpson sat down for a question-and-answer interview before heading to training camp on July 26 at John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.

Q: When was the first time you realized you wanted to be a pro football player?

A: Ever since I was little. Always told my mom, Eva Simpson. She said I always asked her why she has to go to work. Told her I'm not going to work. I'm going to the NFL.

Q: You won a state championship at Rock Hill High. Did you play on any championship teams in youth football?

A: I played on championship teams all the way up till I got to South Carolina. Won them in football, basketball and baseball. Was an all-star in football and baseball. Won the city championship in GRA-Y football.

Q: When USC told you to wait until the second semester to report, what did you do with your free time?

A: Lifted weights and ran at Rock Hill High School, and washed cars at a local dealership. I told myself this was the last time I was going to work for a while.

Q: You became an instant star at USC. Did you expect that to happen?

A: You always go in with your goals set. I wasn't expecting to do as well as I did as a freshman. I was more worried about getting playing time.

Q: Do you still eat a candy bar before every game?

A: I ate them all the way up until I got to the NFL. My mom sent me a case of Snickers to my apartment in Buffalo. My mom started that since I played small fry. I still do it every now and then. I'm superstitious.

Q: Why did you decided to come out of college early?

A: I felt like I did everything I could on the collegiate level. I felt I had nothing else to prove. I talked with my teammate, Johnathan Joseph, who played at Northwestern, and we did what was best for us and our family.

Q: What were you feeling when your name wasn't called on the first day of the draft?

A: I was lost for words, wondering what went wrong. I was a Cowboys fan when I was growing up, but I didn't care who drafted me as long as I got picked. It was cold in Buffalo this winter, but I like it up there.

Q: What was the first thing you bought after signing your contract with the Bills?

A: I bought my mom a car. I bought her a new car. I just bought her a house and I'll live with her when I'm home. You gotta take care of your mom. My mom drives a school bus and saw the house. It was the one she picked out, so I bought it.

Q: Were you nervous at your first day of training camp with the Bills?

A: Not really. I was antsy. I realized I was in the NFL and didn't know what to expect. I wanted to see how everything works.

Q: When you were told you'd be starting in the second game, what did coach say?

A: Coach George Catavolos, my position coach, told me I was going to start in place of Troy Vincent. I knew if I wasn't ready, I'd have to get ready. After I got my first slap, I was good.

Q: Who is your best friend on the Bills?

A: Donte Whitman, who played at Ohio State. We got close because we were both rookies and started in our second games. When we were in the NFL combine in Indianapolis, we even roomed together. It was nice for both us to get drafted by the same team and become good friends.

Q: How is the NFL different from the other levels you've played?

A: Everybody is good. The big thing is getting in the playbook and learning it. You have to know your assignments and know what's coming before it happens. And everybody is a lot bigger and faster.

Q: Do you think the Bills can make the playoffs this season?

A: It's hard to tell right now. If we pull together and focus, the sky is the limit. I feel like we have the right people to get it done, but we lost a lot of players to free agency. We have to see who can fill their shoes.

Q: Who has had the biggest influence on your life?

A: My parents, James Shivers, my dad, but especially my mom. She's not only a mom to me. She's like a father, a friend. I can talk to her about anything.

Q: Out of all the wins you've had, which was the biggest for you?

A: Winning the state championship at Rock Hill High in 2002. You always hear about how much talent Rock Hill has had and teams they had in the past. People asked why they hadn't won it. We stopped the talk.

Q: What's in your future?

A: Me and my girlfriend, Natasha Brice, are having our first baby, a boy, at the end of August. We are naming him after me, Yukota Ja'marr Simpson Jr. He's going to play baseball. That's where all the money's at. I'm still the same Ko that grew up in College Downs. Just because I'm playing in the NFL, I'll never change or let anything go to my head.

Ko Simpson's rookie highlights

• Finished fifth on the team in tackles with 92

• Had two interceptions, five passes defended, one sack and one forced fumble

• First start, filling in for Troy Vincent, on Sept. 10.

• Had 12 tackles against Chicago on Oct. 8

• Recorded his first career interception at Detroit on Oct. 15

• His 76-yard interception return against Green Bay on Nov. 5 was the second longest non-scoring interception return in Bills history and the longest by a rookie or first-year player

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