For three years, former Jesuit football coach Joe Ross would ask John Simon to get on the gridiron and play for the Tigers.
It’s easy to understand why. Simon bench presses 300 pounds, a tie for third most among Jesuit football players, and at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he could be a formidable presence in the trenches.
But Simon would always give Ross the same answer: “I swim. I can’t.”
Now a senior, Simon’s dedication to the swimming team is as unquestioned as his aptitude in the pool, and he has set lofty goals for state: top-eight finishes in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle.
“A top-eight goal is a high expectation, but it’s very achievable for somebody with his ability,” coach Bill Shaffer said, noting that Simon is more than capable of swimming the 50 free in under 22 seconds.
While no one doubts his talent or commitment to helping his team accomplish its goals of winning district and region championships and placing high at the state meet, Simon has had a hot-and-cold relationship with the sport.
He started at 10 years old when his mom gave him a choice: To stay active, he could either take up swimming or enroll in cotillion classes.
“That’s not so much for me,” Simon said. “So, I chose swimming, and I eventually got good at it and just stuck with it.”
But most athletes of Simon’s caliber swim year round, which he hasn’t done since middle school. He would drop swimming after state and pick it up about a week before the high school season began.
Simon kept up his weight training throughout the year, but said he grew tired of the full-time obligation and enjoyed being social too much to make swimming the focal point of his life.
“That’s just John’s personality. He’s laid back. He’s a big teddy bear,” Shaffer said. “But he has goals, he has dreams, he sets them and he achieves them. So, you can’t take anything away from him. He’s very driven.”
Simon proved that by training in the pool all summer to prepare for this season. He is even considering swimming in college, though he won’t make a final decision until after the state meet in November.
He continues to back up his commitment to his team in a newfound leadership role. While Shaffer watches over the younger swimmers during dry land workouts, he trusts Simon to take charge of the rest of the squad — something made easier by his undoubted natural talent, senior status and, of course, imposing physique.
“He’s a good kid, a good leader to have out here because he leads by example, and I think that comes from his stature,” Shaffer said. “He doesn’t have to speak loudly.”