Months before Scott Simon got the first hit of his record-setting baseball career at Northern Illinois, he wasn’t sure that he would earn a spot on the Huskies’ roster.
“Going in as a freshman that fall (of 2003), I thought I did terrible,” Simon said. “I thought, ‘Am I going to get cut?’ I hit about .275 in fall ball, but it felt terrible.”
Simon, a Marian Central graduate, wound up with very different feelings in the spring. He would hit .376 with 40 RBIs in 47 starts as a freshman on his way to becoming a first-team Freshman All-American and a second-team All-Mid-American Conference honoree.
This fall, 15 years after his career ended as NIU’s all-time leader in hits (318), RBIs (193) and doubles (69) – three records he still holds today – Simon will be inducted into NIU’s Athletics Hall of Fame during an Oct. 7 ceremony in DeKalb.
“I’m incredibly proud of everything I did,” he said. “I put in everything that I could.”
Simon credited his head coach Ed Mathey, who now leads the baseball program at North Central College in Naperville, and the NIU coaching staff for preparing him to succeed.
“They gave me the opportunity to start as a freshman,” Simon said. “Without that, who knows the way things go?”
Mathey said he wasn’t concerned about Simon’s assessment of fall ball as a freshman.
“It was just adjusting to the higher level of pitching,” Mathey said. “He wasn’t getting (the barrel of the bat on the ball) that he was used to getting in high school. But you could see that he wasn’t getting overpowered. He wasn’t striking out a lot. He just wasn’t hitting the ball solidly. That’s just part of the progression of moving up levels.”
Over the winter of his freshman season, Simon said something clicked in his performance.
The left-handed hitting first baseman got his opportunity to display his growth in NIU’s season-opening 3-2, 10-inning loss at Louisville.
“It was late February. It was sleeting rain, barely 30 degrees,” Simon said. “It was the first game of a doubleheader and I didn’t start. That was a new feeling for me.”
In the ninth inning, Simon broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out, pinch-hit RBI single to left field.
“Right there, in that first game, I was like, ‘OK, I can do this,’” he said.
Simon, who left NIU as the MAC’s all-time hits leader, broke the school record for hits in a season as a sophomore with 89 and took over the career hits lead after only three seasons.
He never hit lower than .329 in his career, and in his five years in the program, Simon helped NIU to three seasons of 30 or more wins.
In school history, NIU’s program has only four seasons of 30 or more victories. When Simon took a medical redshirt year because of injury in 2005, the Huskies won 16 games.
“That gives you an idea what his impact was on the team,” Mathey said. “His presence in the middle of the lineup was huge. He added to what was a pretty good team in 2003 by coming in and doing what he did.”
Simon now lives in Antioch with his wife, Erika, along with 10-year-old daughter Annabelle, 2-year-old son Blake, and 3-month-old daughter Reese. He works for Nestle as a sales analyst.
His connection now to baseball involves watching his favorite team, the White Sox, regularly talking about the game’s strategies and nuances with friends and family and playing the MLB: The Show video game.
“Baseball’s in my blood,” he said. “I just love the game.”
Some of his best memories of college are the juniors and seniors who helped him develop as a young player.
“We had a good culture,” he said. “We had a really good core group of baseball players. I tried to treat the guys who came after me the same way I was treated and to lead by example.”
Mathey said that Simon set the example for teammates with his daily work ethic.
“He had a worker’s mentality,” Mathey said. “If he had a tough day, he’d be at the cages working on it. If he had a good day, he’d be at the cages working on it.
“He just loved hitting the baseball. And he was good at it.”
Evans runs away with recognition: Eastern Michigan running back Samson Evans (Prairie Ridge) was honored Wednesday as one of 75 players on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list. The annual award is given to college’s football best running back.
As a junior last season, Evans made a major impact on the Eagles’ offense, rushing for a team-best 13 touchdowns, passing for three TDs and catching 19 passes. Evans had multiple touchdowns in four games for EMU, which finished 7-6 last season and played in the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Earlier this month, Evans was named to the Shrine Bowl 1,000, a list of top college prospects put together by the staff of the annual Shrine Bowl all-star game.
Lockwood off to DeKalb: Prairie Ridge grad Sammi Lockwood is among five new additions to the Northern Illinois women’s volleyball team, the school announced July 7 on its website.
A 6-foot-3 middle blocker, Lockwood is transferring to NIU after two seasons at Notre Dame. She appeared in four matches during her time with the Irish.
As a prep player, Lockwood ranked No. 87 on PrepVolleyball.com’s Senior Aces List and was a second-team Under Armour All-American in 2018.
• Barry Bottino writes about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.