Feb. 4, 2013
A four-year veteran of the Arena Football League, defensive back Jason Simpson has solidified himself as both a leader on the Barnstormers as well as a seasoned veteran of the game. Mallory Treleaven sat down with Simpson to hear his expectations for the Barnstormers in 2013.
MALLORY TRELEAVEN: This will be your third season with the Barnstormers. What about the organization makes you want to come back and play for Iowa?
JASON SIMPSON: Well we have some of the best fans in the whole League. They’re very passionate. They are crazy, they like to have a good time and they expect winning results. They have high expectations but they’re not the kind of fair weather fans that stop coming if you do lose, so you know they’re there for the long run. We also have very good attendance. In addition, Coach Hohensee signed a two-year contract, so I signed a two-year contract. I always wanted to play for “Coach Ho”. He’s just a good person and a great coach, and he prepares me very well.
MT: What was your reaction to Coach Hohensee getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this past season?
JS: I was just waiting on which year it would be. He threw the first pass in AFL history, has an ArenaBowl championship and coached for 25 years. I don’t know his overall record but I can bet that it’s pretty good. I wasn’t surprised at all, but I was happy for him. This past season, Rodney [Filer] got his jersey retired and then coach got inducted into the Hall of Fame – it was pretty cool.
MT: Would you consider yourself to be the leader on the team?
JS: Yes, we have to grow these younger guys because more than likely they’ll be back next year. We want them to be good now but better in the future. Last year, I was a captain helping out guys and this year I hope to be one again so I can steer these guys both mentally and physically but more so mentally. Coach Hohensee is definitely the general but he lets his lieutenants work throughout the team pretty regularly, so he expects his players to lead and they should.
With the Barnstormers, you have a unique position since you play defensive back and you also return kicks. How did you find yourself playing both special teams and defense?
JS: I used to return punts and kicks when I was in high school and then I went to college and for some reason they wouldn’t let me, so I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about that. In the af2, I practiced returning balls off the nets and seeing how I could do. I was able to return one kick at the end of 2010. I just always thought it was the most fun you could have and the greatest challenge just to get from one end of the field to the other when there’s seven people on the field out to get you.
MT: Walk me through the difference between returning an interception and returning a kick.
JS: When you’re returning an interception, you have defensive lineman protecting you and a quarterback who probably doesn’t want to tackle you. It’s more in your favor when you are returning an interception, just based on the players that are out there. You have more protection and less athleticism, all you have to do is outrun the fullback and the receivers and as long as you can block them up you can score a touchdown every time as long as you don’t run into the linemen. On a kickoff, everyone is athletic and everyone is out to get you. They have one goal and that’s to tear the returners head off. You have a real target on your back, so it’s just really different.
MT: Have you ever considered playing offense?
JS: I was thrown one pass last year in a game against Jacksonville when Marco [Thomas] hurt his shoulder. I am usually the fourth receiver because I play Jack linebacker as well. Especially since we have one less guy on the active roster, you have to do more than one thing, I return kicks, I back up the jack and I play DB. I would love to play receiver, but Coach Hohensee’s system is pretty intricate so he doesn’t like any mistakes.
MT: Iowa’s defense is shaping up to be something special this season. What are your expectations for the 2013 Barnstormer defense?
JS: Well the defense will be better. I’m heading into my seventh year of Arena ball and I’m hoping that it will be my best defensive line ever. I’ve worked with Mike Lewis before and he’s a great guy and has a good attitude and a high motor. Rodney Gnat had good production last year, he’s got a really high motor and I think he’ll be able to use his body more this year. We have Mantangi Tonga who has played a couple years and he knows what he’s doing too. There’s that 6’10 400-pound rookie, Everett Corley, so we’ll see how he works out, I just don’t see anybody moving him. Just with that group alone, I think we’re going to be solid. I think the problem with any defense is if you have no D-line rush, if your quarterback can sit back there and throw over the middle, you are going to be left vulnerable every time. Our defense can have 35 interceptions but still give up big plays because we don’t have enough D-line rush. I think that will be shored up this year. One reason I came back was because of Mike Lewis. I can’t do it without a good D-line. I can be the best DB in the world but it won’t matter if you let someone throw for six seconds in this game.
MT: How successful do you think the Iowa offense will be in 2013?
JS: I think that Coach Hohensee will call a few different plays with the guys that we have. We have some really good ‘run after the catch’ guys. Darius Reynolds is fast, quick, and smart. He could be a superstar if he stays healthy. I know Marco Thomas, I’ve played with him for two seasons and he’ll have over 1,000 yards and quite a few touchdowns. Collin Taylor is a tough player at receiver and he’s been here for over a year. We have experience and depth going into next year. I feel good with the group we have now, I think we have three guys who can have over 1,000 yards and to me that’s a better team than having one guy who has 1,800 yards like we’ve had in the past. You don’t want to rely on one person ever. I don’t want to be the key to the defense and I think everybody needs to pull their own weight.
MT: Do you have any personal goals this season?
JS: I had 1,700 return yards and two return touchdowns last year and I broke my wrist with four or five games left. I am expecting 2,000 yards returning and hopefully four or five touchdowns if we block it up right. I think my goal is to set the League record of more than 16 interceptions in one season. If the ball falls right and depending on what position I’m playing, I think I can get that done and help the team win. I would also like to set the League record for most interceptions by a team in one season, 43 interceptions says a lot for a defense, so it would be a great team goal.