Kendall Simmons, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 2002-2008
First, can you let readers know how you are doing these days and about your Swing 4 Diabetes and other efforts to help others with Diabetes?
Since retiring from the NFL, I am busy at home with my family. Soccer, gymnastics, dances; date night and homework with my three little girls and wife keep me busy.
Outside of the efforts to combat Diabetes, what else have you been doing since your time in the NFL?
I’m currently a National Spokesman for Novo Nordisk. Graphic design has always been a passion of mine, so I’ve doing a little freelance work. I’ve also taken advantage of the NFL Career Transition Program. The Swing 4 Diabetes Golf event my wife and a friend of ours put on every year is very important to us.
You were the first round pick of the Steelers in 2002 – how much pressure did you feel as a first rounder and how did you prove yourself to the players and coaches your rookie season?
The first round pick has a lot of pressure on them to play immediately. There were two ways I wanted to prove myself to my team. I wanted to keep my mistakes to a minimum and to play fast. I would rather have had the coaches tell me to slow down then speed up.
You were a star defensive lineman in high school. What caused the conversion to the offensive line in college and how do you think playing defensive line in high school helped you as an offensive lineman?
I had to play both sides of the ball in high school. The offensive line coach at Auburn University who recruited me during that time was Rick Trickett. Coach Trickett was the only coach that wanted me to play offense instead defense. He felt that I had a better chance of starting as a freshman on offense and making it to the NFL as an offensive lineman.
Who helped take you under their wing as a rookie and helped you adjust to life in the NFL – both on and off the field? How did they do so?
Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings all contributed to my growth while I was in Pittsburgh. Marvel Smith is like my brother off the field. Alan Faneca’s knowledge of the game and his physical approach is something I have always admired. I watched him closely and asked a lot of questions.
I owe Jeff Hartings a special thanks for letting me lean on him when it came to blocking assignments my rookie year. Hartings also taught me how to relax on the field.
You were diagnosed in 2003 with Diabetes – how did you take the news at first and how did the front office and coaches work with you after the diagnosis was made?
When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003 I did not know what was going on with me physically and if I would ever play again. I owe Mr. Dan Rooney, the owner of the Steelers at the time, special thanks. I really appreciate how he checked on me every time I saw him downstairs. I also owe the training staff John Norwig and Ryan Grove huge credit for going to all my doctors’ appointments at Faulk Clinic with me. They also did a great job with all my needs on the field.
How did the disease affect your play and preparation for the game after you returned to the field? What extra precautions and steps did you have to take to prepare for games each week?
I did not realize at the first how hard it would be to feel normal again. It was very hard to get back to the level of performance needed to play in the NFL. I had to constantly check my blood glucose levels. I would test five to six times on practice days and on game days it went to about eight times. The only way I could feel well enough to play was when I kept my blood sugars below 180. That was extremely hard because adrenaline causes your blood sugar levels to rise.
My target numbers were 120 and 170. If I dropped below 80 or were higher than 180, it affected my performance.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for – what made them so? Any examples?
Troy Polamalu! One night, Troy and a couple of the guy were hanging out. They decided to play a prank on my wife and I at 3 a.m. They rang our doorbell and ran away after leaving old food at our door. They came back again and this time, I let my Great Dane out on them. A year or so passed by until I found that Troy was behind it all.
You were released in 2009 and went on to play for the Patriots. How difficult was that release for you and how did playing for those new teams comparing not the Steelers?
Well putting those feelings into words is still very hard. It hurt and I really didn’t see it coming. It is difficult to get over until you realize football is a business.
Once I became a free agent, I had two options New England and Buffalo. The time I spent with the Patriots taught me to lean on God more and to realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
I felt as if I fit in at Buffalo from the time I got there. Sean Kugler was the offensive line coach while I was there. He made the transition easier for me. Neither team compared to Pittsburgh.
What were your best memories of your time in Pittsburgh and what made them so?
The first game that I started at Heinz Field versus the Raiders. Bringing my family down onto the field for Superbowl XL. Some of the best memories for me during my time in Pittsburgh were the life long relationships I built with some of the players and front office personnel.
Any last thoughts for readers?
There are no other fans like Steeler fans in professional sports. My NFL career changed me a lot as a person but I will ALWAYS be a Steeler. That will never change.