As we prepare for the start of what is expected to be another exciting Penn State football season, we were able to catch up with Penn State football all-time great LaVar Arrington. Arrington was in preparation for the start of his first season as head coach of the Maranatha Minutemen in Pasadena, California. It was an honor to speak to him and while I didn’t want to take too much of his valuable time, once he got started on the topic of Penn State football, his momentum carried us for over a half-hour.
We began by discussing his work with young football players, and one player in particular that is set to make a splash for the Lions in the near future.
Penn State defensive end Shane Simmons, while in eighth grade, had the unique opportunity to meet Arrington at an event hosted at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. While neither of them could have known it at the time, their relationship would evolve from one of mentorship into what has now become a form of extended family. “I really liked Shane and I liked his family,” Arrington said when we recently caught up with him, “I think that Jen and Walt are phenomenal people and I really saw a lot of potential in Shane.”
Over the years he has continued to work with Shane to help him on the football field but in the process, he has become very close with the entire Simmons family. “That’s how I interact with Jen and Shane and Walt. It has truly become a seamless family affair. They’re our family. If I were to go to Maryland, and need a place to stay, I would stay there. If they need a place to stay when they come out here, they can stay here. We’re family, that’s just what it comes down to.”
For Arrington, the start of his relationship with Simmons has helped him build something that he is incredibly proud of today. That would be the “All Mammal” brand and his work with eighth grade football players. As you may have heard this past spring, Arrington brought seventy of the best eighth grade football players in the country to Penn State to participate in an all-star game at Beaver Stadium prior to the Blue-White game.
Here is what he had to say about the A11 All-Star Bowl earlier this spring.
Arrington’s work with these eighth graders isn’t simply about building better football players but building better men and students. In essence, he not only wants to build high impact football players but also build high impact community members. He expanded on his comments when the topic came around to his work with Simmons and other eighth graders in his program.
“Helping them to develop their minds. Who they are. What they represent and the power of influence that they can use to do so much good. It’s important to our community but it’s also important to them in their development. The more they realize and respect what it is that they can do for their communities, think about the type of accountability that they are bringing into the weight room, or to the practice field. It’s ultimately going to make them better football players as well.”
While on campus, Arrington made sure to expose his athletes to the classrooms, athletic facilities and more of what Penn State has to offer. They may have gotten early exposure to Happy Valley but don’t think that Arrington is trying to influence his athletes as to which college they should attend.
“I make no bones about the fact that I love Penn State. But I never tell the kids where to go. I never try to influence recruiting, not one bit. They earn their opportunities. They have the right to decide where they want to go to get their education at the next level.”
As LaVar put it, eighth grade is the final frontier for students. After eighth grade everything you do will have an impact on your future prospects for college; there’s simply no going back once you step foot in high school.
2018 and Beyond
Both Arrington and Shane Simmons have entered points of their respective careers that will determine a lot about their futures. This is the first season as a head coach at the high school level for Arrington. Off to a 1-0 start, with a 42-0 win in the opening game versus Glendale High School, he spoke about his current position and what the future may hold.
“I don’t close the door on what my journey has in store for me. The place where I am currently at is an amazing place to be. I look forward to leading Maranatha to some good positive outcomes during some seasons. As I learn and grow into myself, being a head coach, and continue to challenge myself and how I mold and shape. I’ve been preparing for this moment to take over a program for a very long time. This is a very pivotal moment in my life. I take it with a tremendous responsibility and accountability to what I am doing and what it means to those kids that I am doing it with.”
While Arrington is in a position to lead and mentor football players and young men, he continues to grow as an individual and coach. He spoke about the potential of some day having the chance to learn from coaches that are further along in their development than he is currently.
He had nothing but praise for the leader of the Penn State defense saying, “That dang defensive coordinator there at Penn State. I would not mind coming in and learning from and coaching under Brent Pry. Would not mind it one bit.”
When asked what it would take to become a head coach at a place such as Penn State, or what it would mean to him to be named the linebackers coach some day:
“If it ever was an opportunity, at the right time. At Penn State? I don’t know how I would get through it if I was ever named the linebackers coach at Penn State. As far a head coaching is concerned. It would have to be me perfecting my craft and what I am doing, and that will take some time. Once I get to that place, I would probably assess where I am at. In terms of coaching a defensive line, or linebackers, at the next level, I know that would be something I would truly excel at if the opportunity was correct.”
Shane Simmons enters 2018 with a chance to become a cornerstone of the Lions defense as he looks to take a huge step forward this season. The redshirt sophomore hopes to help lead the program to a Big Ten Championship and hopefully a National Championship no matter how big or small his role may be.
Simmons isn’t the only Penn State player that Arrington has been able to develop a relationship with over the years. The man who once made the #11 jersey for Penn State popular has a relationship with Micah Parsons, who currently wears that number, as well as Ellis Brooks to name just a couple. That being said, it’s safe to say that Arrington certainly has a presence in Penn State’s locker room even when he’s not around the program physically. “We talk when they need to talk. When they have something that they need to bounce off me. The kids I talk to, it’s not like it’s everyday, or helicopter mentoring. They know I’m here.”
Arrington spoke about the group of players that defensive line coach Sean Spencer has at his disposal following the retirement of two potential starting defensive ends in recent weeks.
“I look at the defensive front and I see at least four, five, maybe even six dominant players. I am not feeling bad for coach Spencer. He is going to have his hands full with just a ton of talent. I think guys like Shane can transition into a role this season. The rotation that you will have, with those guys, at the defensive end position, is borderline disgustingly scary.”
Let’s hope that we see some of this disgustingly scary defensive line play early and often this season in Happy Valley.
Arrington mentioned the idea of his work with younger players and how in some ways it has come full circle. Shane Simmons, once one of the kids looking to become a future star, is now on the cusp of becoming just that for the Nittany Lions. Simmon’s journey, and likely future success, will propel other young men that are just beginning their path toward division one football.
And for himself, having turned forty years-old two months ago, he is both a mentor and student within the coaching community. It will be interesting to see where his path will take him in the future as he continues to teach, learn, and grow along the way. Should it ever lead to Happy Valley, I doubt Arrington would be the only person in the Penn State community to have trouble managing their emotions.
This was a tag-team effort. While I conducted the interview, Chris Taylor was instrumental in producing the article itself. Chris was heavily involved in the transcription and overall tying together of the article.
While I had previously heard that LaVar Arrington is a nice guy and does a lot to help those who reach out to him, I truly never imagined that I was going to have the chance to interview him. I was born in 1997 a few months before he took the field for Penn State during his freshman season.
At times he threw me off guard by naming players from his playing days that I had not heard of, such as Justin Kurpeikis and the toughest of all, Bhawoh Jue. While I struggled to follow him it became clear that he understood the situation and in turn was helping me along. There were times when children could be heard in the background as he spoke from his home in California. The man is a walking, talking, mentoring machine with a passion for football and all things Penn State.