Edson: The Simaz Legacy – Michigan’s First Family of Wrestling
Traverse City St. Francis’ Andy Simaz felt a shooting pain in his leg as he was tackled diving across the goal line to score a touchdown in the Gladiators’ first football playoff game seven weeks ago.
As the team’s middle linebacker, running back and receiver, Andy wasn’t about to leave the lineup.
“I think it ties back to his wrestling mentality,” said his coach Josh Sellers. “Wrestlers, because of the one-on-one nature of their sport, tend to be tougher than your average Joe.”
Simaz scored a second touchdown in the playoff game, then went to the sidelines when the game was well in hand.
He played the next two playoff games, with St. Francis reaching the third round before finally falling to Iron Mountain. In both games, his knee continued to hurt but he refused to give in to the pain.
In fact, in the most crucial games of the season, he racked up 18 and 17 tackles, against No. 1 Muskegon Oakridge and McBain.
“Andy was our leader all year,” said Sellers. “At our conference meeting after the season, other coaches said he was the one player they couldn’t figure out how to block.”
As he put away his football pads for the final time, the Gladiator star began collecting his hardware: Co-Defensive Player of the Year in his conference, as well as All-State mention. He also took home key team honors, including MVP.
But then it was on to his true passion – wrestling.
He is, after all, a defending state champion at 152 pounds and has more than 120 career wins. He opened the season two weeks ago with a 19-5 lead before pinning his Division I opponent from Traverse City Central.
But after that match, his high school career was finished. He just didn’t know it yet.
“I went to the doctor to see about the pain in my knee, underwent an MRI and found out I have a torn ACL,” said Andy. “I’m disappointed, but I know I don’t have anything left to prove in high school. I won a state championship last year and my goal is to wrestle in college.”
He’ll undergo his ACL surgery over Christmas break, then start rehab. He takes a visit to the University of Michigan in early January to see about wrestling for the Wolverines.
That seems appropriate, since the Simaz name is synonymous with wrestling success in the state of Michigan. Of the top 10 all-time winning wrestlers in the state, three are named Simaz. They are Andy’s cousins and they wrestled for Allendale. One of the cousins – Cam – even won an NCAA title for Cornell.
In all, the Simaz family has racked up more than 1,200 career wins and 12 state championships. That includes one each for Andy and his dad Mike, who is Andy’s wrestling coach at St. Francis. You could say that the Simaz clan is Michigan’s First Family of Wrestling.
“I’ve been around wrestling my entire life,” said Andy, who carries a 3.9 grade point average at St. Francis. “So much of wrestling is about mental toughness and technique. Last year at the state tournament, I think I was physically weaker than all of my opponents. But having grown up around wrestling and learning from my dad and my cousins, I’ve become more of a technician. I use my technique, not so much my strength, to beat people.”
But there were obstacles along the way to his success. That’s where Andy gives credit to his parents, Mike and Caroline.
“My dad drove me thousands of mile downstate (Grand Rapids and Davidson) on Sundays so I could wrestle the best people in the state and make me better,” he said.
Andy also had to overcome migraine headaches that limited his sports and school attendance at times.
“My mom drove me all over to find answers,” he said. “Now I take a shot once-a-month for that. I can’t tell you how many hours my mom has spent praying for me and helping me get through it.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the help of my mom and dad.”
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.