Former BYU receiver Micah Simon went to bed the night of March 26 with a big grin on his face, which isn’t unusual considering the Texan was always one of the most positive, pleasant players around during his time with the Cougars from 2015 to 2019.
Simon not only ran an eye-popping time of 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash at BYU’s pro day, he ran crisp routes in the Indoor Practice Facility and caught every pass thrown to him by probable NFL top-two draft pick Zach Wilson.
The phone call Simon got the next morning would make that ever-present grin even bigger, and change his life.
Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer called, said he and offensive coordinator Joe Brady were at BYU’s pro day, and were so impressed by Simon that they wanted to sign him to a three-year, minimum salary contract as quickly as possible.
“I was kinda blown away,” Simon told the Deseret News last week. “Yeah, just a total surprise for me. I had never heard from the Panthers, other than normal pre-draft stuff last year where they make sure they have the right contact information for you. My agent (Harold Bicknell) hadn’t heard from them at all.”
For the 5-foot-11, 197-pound Simon, it was not only a dream come true, but validation that months and months of sticking to his training regimen when he went undrafted and without a training camp invite last spring was worth it.
“There were plenty of times when I wasn’t sure if I should still chase the dream or not,” he said from his home in Dallas. “It has been a crazy year.”
Two days after Fitterer called, Simon flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, and took a physical, met with Carolina’s doctors and trainers, and then signed the contract on March 30.
He was back in Dallas at the end of last week, but still hasn’t quit his day job, as it were. He will continue to train a couple hours every morning, “do back-end stuff” and “serve as a middle man between the borrower and the banks” for Orem-based First Colony Mortgage in the afternoon and then get in a couple more hours of training before bedtime at night.
On April 19, he will report in Charlotte (or virtually, pending pandemic issues) for the Panthers’ offseason training program.
To tap into the bulk of the minimum annual salary of $610,000, Simon must first make the team next fall, but may be in a favorable situation as the Panthers appear to have some backup need at receiver to bolster a group that includes Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and recently acquired Seahawks receiver David Moore, who replaced Washington-bound Curtis Samuel.
“For sure any and all special teams work will be a big part of what I will do — kickoff, punt, punt return, things like that,” he said. “We haven’t talked any specific positions, but they know I can play inside or outside receiver. I am just looking forward to showing my talents there.”
Late bloomer at BYU
Simon disagrees with the notion that he might have been underused at BYU, saying he contributed a lot on special teams and was given ample opportunity to showcase his skills as a former high school quarterback who could not only catch the ball, but throw it and run with it. At one point during his freshman season in 2015, he was given a shot to play defensive back, but that didn’t take.
He caught 27 passes for 386 yards as a freshman in 2017, the year the Cougars went 4-9 and didn’t qualify for a bowl game, then struggled his junior year when new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes came aboard and altered the offense significantly.
Micah was flat out impressive at @BYUfootball NFL Pro Day. His speed, route running & receiving turned heads! I appreciate @micahsimon_ for his personality & character. Always respectful & willing to address the media regardless of the game’s outcome. #muchlove #bestwishes https://t.co/sZS866Ra65— Duff Tittle (@dufftittle) March 31, 2021
After catching just 12 passes for 107 yards in 2018, Simon saved his best for last. He had an outstanding senior season, catching 51 passes for 616 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, he caught the 64-yard pass on fourth down from Wilson that helped the Cougars upset Tennessee in Knoxville, the signature play of his Cougars career.
“That’s a play, and a game, I will never forget,” he said.
He finished his BYU career with 90 receptions for 1,109 yards and five TDs, while appearing in 40 games. Good numbers, but not the kind that attract the attention of NFL scouts.
“The numbers are always kinda hard to evaluate, because there are so many different factors,” Simon said. “I was talking to a scout about it — I played with seven different starting quarterbacks in three years.”
Before his junior season, Simon says he had some “personal struggles” at the beginning of the season “and could never bounce back and crack back through to the level of playing that people knew I was capable of, and people knew I was capable of.”
He recommitted himself to his craft the summer before his senior season, however, and he joined Aleva Hifo and Talon Shumway in giving BYU three outstanding senior receivers.
“It was just a regroup session for me, going into my senior season, of just trusting myself and trusting my training and having confidence in myself to go out there and have a good year no matter what the circumstances were,” he said. “It was just a really up-and-down career, but I wouldn’t say I was underutilized. Coaches used me in different areas, the slot or the outside. I was successful in both. And then being put on special teams that let me show my speed and athleticism. Letting me make tackles got me in this position I am in now.”
Pandemic alters a lot of plans
A year ago at this time, Simon was working hard to catch the eye of an NFL team, but without the benefit of a pro day because BYU couldn’t put one on due to the pandemic. Nobody could. He did a virtual pro day, and sent out video of him running sub-4.4 times in the 40, but drew little interest.
The 2020 NFL draft came and went, the undrafted free agent signing period came and went, and Simon was still on the sidelines.
He almost gave up.
Having gone back home to Dallas during the early days of the pandemic, he continued to work with Ryan Mentzel, a Texas-based speed and agility trainer, then returned to Provo last June and began working for First Colony Mortgage, which employs several former Cougars.
The itch to get a shot at pro football was still there, however, so he trained with David Stroshine, owner of Stroformance, and waited for his phone to ring.
Last August, the Baltimore Ravens conducted a virtual workout with him, watched him run some routes to see where he was at from a fitness standpoint, “but nothing ever came out of that,” Simon said.
As the NFL season began to wind down last fall, Simon had a chat with his agent and was told that “nothing is probably going to happen this year for any practice squad opportunity” or the like.
“So I kinda stopped working out super heavy,” he said. “I just did enough to stay in shape, is all. And that’s where I kinda got to the point where I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to pursue this.”
About that time, BYU was putting the finishing touches on its 11-1 season, Wilson was declaring early for the NFL draft, and Simon was starting to settle in to the 9-to-5 working world.
However, he learned that BYU was having a pro day in late March, and was inviting a handful of players who starred on the 2019 team but didn’t get a pro day, including Simon.
“I talked to my agent and my parents (Michael and Curtique) and they said, ‘If you can do pro day again, then why not do it?’ Simon said. “BYU’s pro day is structured really well, I knew it would be well-attended with Zach planning to be there. I talked to (BYU coach) Kalani (Sitake) and he said I should definitely come back and do it.”
The dream lives on
Suddenly, the goal-oriented Simon, who graduated from BYU in 2019 with a degree in exercise science, had a goal: Be ready to fly on March 26.
He reconnected with Mentzel of Atlet Sports and put a plan together to shave off a few more hundredths of seconds from his 40 time and get back in elite shape for pro day.
“It was tough to stay in elite shape for that long without really an end goal. That was the hardest thing for me. At one point there was no end goal. There wasn’t a date that I was getting ready for,” he said. “But when they said March 26, and I had a date, and a goal, I felt confident about where I was and what kind of time I could put down.”
When Wilson learned Simon was still in excellent shape, he asked the receiver to join him in Southern California to put together Wilson’s script — the 60 or so throws he would make on pro day in front of representatives from 31 of the 32 teams in the NFL. Another Cougar receiver from 2019 who didn’t get a pro day, Aleva Hifo, also joined the group directed by former BYU QB John Beck, along with 2020 tight end Matt Bushman (coming off Achilles surgery) and NFL-bound junior Dax Milne.
Micah Simon checking in with a 4.34 ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/8AMok6ru3u— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) March 26, 2021
“I’m thankful to Zach for that opportunity,” Simon said.
Simon made three trips across three weekends to work on the script in Southern California, then flew to Utah with Wilson a week or so before pro day to get reacclimated to the altitude.
While in SoCal, he also caught passes from probable first-round draft picks Justin Fields of Ohio State and Kyle Trask of Florida.
“So that was a pretty cool experience,” Simon said.
Pathway to the Panthers
Four seconds. It’s a stretch to say that Simon’s life changed in four seconds, but that 4.34-second performance clearly showed that Simon’s years of hard work were worth it, he said.
He wasn’t surprised, he said, because he had hit 4.40 and 4.39 during training and figured “adrenaline would take over” once he got in front of scouts.
Most pro day participants are given two chances to run the 40, but Simon says the free agents weren’t given the chance. That enabled cornerback Chris Wilcox to post a day’s best 4.31 on his second try.
But no worries. Simon has already turned his attention to the Panthers and the NFL.
He already has some friends on the team. In Texas, he worked out with Panthers linebacker Chris Orr, who was a rookie last season out of Wisconsin after going undrafted.
“He was extremely hyped when I signed,” Simon said.
One of Carolina’s offensive analysts is former Baylor quarterback Garret McGuire, whose father was head coach at Cedar Hill High in Texas when Simon attended camps there as a youngster.
“I’ve known them for awhile,” he said.
‘Patience and sacrifice’
Simon said he hasn’t decided yet what he will do or buy if he makes it big in the NFL, but he does know he will take care of his parents and younger brother, because they have sacrificed a lot to make his goal a reality, too.
He is also thinking about the other guys who didn’t get a pro day a few months after their college careers ended and were there on March 26 to keep their dreams alive: Hifo, Beau Tanner, Austin Lee, Isaiah Armstrong and Batchlor Johnson IV.
What’s his advice to them?
“Two words I always use are patience and sacrifice,” he said. “It is a long road. It is a long ways to go. Nothing happens overnight. You just gotta take it day by day and just grind and put yourself in a position where you can be successful. You have to ask, what am I willing to sacrifice? And that’s kinda what it boils down to.”