UBC Thunderbirds' redshirt freshman Parker Simson has moved from the defensive backfield to a role as a 'Birds back-up quarterback. (Bob Frid/UBC athletics)
Feature University Football

UBC football: QB Parker Simson? Touted two-sport star leaves defence for understudy pivot role

VANCOUVER — Parker Simson came to UBC hoping to get his foot in the door with both the football and basketball programs.

Instead, the broken one that he arrived with did little to help him navigate his way through a tumultuous freshman season in which he instead played the unexpected role of two-sport spectator.

And while the star dual-sport athlete from Kelowna Secondary was forced to cool his heels over a frustrating 2016-17 season, a return to health has come complete with some significant news in regards to his position with the Thunderbirds football team.

UBC football head coach Blake Nill confirmed Tuesday that Simson has made the move from the defensive side of the ball to offensive side, and will come to fall camp battling for one of the back-up positions at quarterback behind rising third-year sensation Michael O’Connor.

“As a coach you look at the situation within your program and try to use your pieces to the best of your ability,” said Nill. “Our depth at quarterback is not satisfactory, and by that I don’t mean it’s poor. But we have a kid in Parker who was the (2015 B.C. High School Triple A offensive) Player of the Year (as a quarterback) and he is athletic. He may not be as refined from the perspective of his drop-back throwing and his footwork, but I just want to have a look at him. If it makes us better by having Parker in that positional group, then we need to seriously consider it.”

Simson’s foot injury not only kept him off the football field and basketball court this past season, but lingered long enough to keep him out of spring football entirely.

O’Connor, the Penn State transfer and Vanier Cup-winning pivot, is clearly in no danger of being unseated. Yet Nill wants to add to a group that already includes veteran Cole Meyer (Earl Marriott) and touted incoming freshman Gabe Olivares (G.W. Graham).

“I am pretty excited about it but it is going to take a lot of work because not only haven’t I played quarterback since high school, I haven’t played football in a year because of my injury” said Simson, a 6-foot-3 prospect who had come to UBC as a defensive back. “In high school, I don’t feel like I played quarterback the right way because I just ran it every time.”

Simson wasn’t as one-dimensional as he would make it seem

In nine games with the Owls, Simson went 53-of-80 for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns against three interceptions. His 66.3 completion percentage was the highest among fulltime starting QBs in Triple A that season. In an opening-round Subway Bowl playoff game his senior year, Simson rushed for a score, threw for another, then caught passes for two more.

But yes, he did run a lot.

Simson scampered from behind centre 100 times for 785 yards and 12 touchdowns. In total, including special teams, he totalled 1,863 all-purpose yards and scored 23 touchdowns.

UBC head coach Blake Nill is looking to maximize the quarterback depth chart by adding redshirt freshman defensive back Parker Simson. (Rich Lam/UBC athletics)

Complimenting that resume is a unique development within the ‘Birds coaching staff which could help greatly with Simson’s development as O’Connor’s potential backup.

Jay Prepchuk, the former UBC head coach, record-setting quarterback from Simon Fraser and longtime quarterback guru while coaching at North Vancouver’s Handsworth Secondary, has rejoined the blue-and-gold as the quarterbacks coach.

“The big thing with Parker,” said Nill, “is that he is a pro-type dual-threat quarterback who is more than capable of making plays with his feet and his arm.

“He’s probably more comfortable doing it with his feet, but now, with coach Prepchuk on staff, I don’t think I could have a better guy to tutor Parker with his quarterback skills. Jay will help with some of our systems, but right now we need quarterback-skill development so that will be his primary role.”

Simson might be the perfect candidate for a positional re-set.

Blessed with incredible athleticism and competitiveness, he prepped in both hoops and football with the Owls over his entire high school career and, if he can set foot on both the field and the court, has the chance to become one of the first UBC athletes to play both of those sports in the same season.

Yes, there is plenty of rust to shake over the coming months, but Simson seems determined to prove himself to doubters on both sides as far as his two-sport skills are concerned.

“With basketball, everyone seems to want to say ‘No, he’s a football guy,’” said Simson, “but in my head I want to show I am a basketball player, too. Then they say I am not a next-level quarterback, I am like ‘OK, I’ll show you.’”

Simson, when told Tuesday that his former high school teammate Mason Bourcier had signed on to join the UBC basketball team, was completely surprised and absolutely thrilled with the news.

Yet after his long rehabilitation process, one that is still not 100 per cent complete, he added “I am just happy that I can finally train.”

The countdown to the start of the football season is still being measured in months, yet Nill has his own focus set on his team’s many positional groups, including the quarterbacks and how they can best thrive as unit led by O’Connor.

“Yes, we have a good situation with Michael and Cole and Gabe,” said Nill. “But is it our best one? The players have to be put in competitive situations for their own longterm benefit and for the benefit of the program.

“Bringing Parker in may help create a more competitive situation back there which results in more production from the position.”

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