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Palmer Simpson destined to play football at Queen’s

January 31, 2014


Somewhere in Palmer Simpson’s family there’s someone with unrivaled clairvoyance.

“When I was young, I had a sweater,” Simpson said. “I wasn’t even a year old, and it said ‘Queen’s recruit of 20??’”

The prophecy came true Friday when Simpson, a defensive lineman from Sault Ste. Marie, signed a letter of intent to play football for the Queen’s Golden Gaels.

There’s a fair Queen’s legacy in Simpson’s life. His mother and an uncle are both alumni, and his grandfather grew up in the Sault playing football with former Queen’s coach Doug Hargreaves.

“It was in the blood to come to Queen’s,” Simpson said.

Thanks to his mom, Simpson said he got a steady diet of the Gaels, even if from afar.

“I’ve watched them on TV every chance I get,” he said. “I grew up watching them play football.”

He attended one game in person and the hook was set.

“The fans are unreal,” he said. “They paint themselves purple … they’re unbelievable. In my hometown we’re lucky to get 50 people at a game. It’s a hockey town, so football gets kind of gets kicked to the side.

“(The game atmosphere at Queen’s) is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, so coming here, with all those fans …. I can’t wait to feel how supportive they are.”

During his introduction Friday, Simpson spoke of his wish to become part of the Queen’s football tradition. On their way to the news conference Friday morning, the Simpsons paid a visit to Hargreaves, who was, Palmer said, a classmate since Kindergarten of his grandfather.

Bert Simpson has been a tremendous influence on his grandson’s life.

“I never grew up with a father,” Palmer said, “so he always was the one to get me throwing the football, catching the football. When I was eight years old he gave me a birthday present. It was registration for (Sault minor) football. That was the best present I’ve ever gotten.

“I never had someone to say, ‘Here let’s go play catch, I’ll teach you what to do.’ He’s always been the one to say, ‘Hey, I’ll take you out.’ Even in his old days, he’s 80-some now, he tries to make it to all my games. I have to thank him over anyone else, because he started me off in football. He brought me up in football. I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Hargreaves left high school in the Sault to play football at Queen’s. Bert Simpson went on to manage several Woolworth stores across the province. “My grandpa could have (come to Queen’s, too) but he wanted a Woolworth’s,” Palmer said. “He had a different life to go about.”

Gaels coach Pat Sheahan expressed his gratitude that even though Bert Simpson never went on to play the game, he imparted his love of it to a grandson he described Friday as “hardnosed — like they are when they come from Sault Ste. Marie.”

“I’m not sure what it is about Sault Ste. Marie, whether those guys get a lunch bucket or do they get a miner’s cap when they start Kindergarten, but there is a brand of football that is very characteristic of northern Ontario … it’s very physical. The types of kids that play it, they’re not shy. They get introduced to contact, smashmouth football from the time they start.

“Having a successful football career is part of the sport culture in the Sault. There’s some outstanding high school coaching up there, there’s great passion for their community team. It’s one of the few communities that still boasts a senior team. The Sault Steelers have been around for a long time.”

Sheahan said Simpson projects as a defensive end with the Gaels.

“Right now he’s carrying the persona of an edge player, which in our system would be the rush end or the weak-side end. However, I would remind everybody he’s fresh out of high school, he’s about 235 pounds, and over the years we’ve seen bodies like that swell up a little bit … so quick tackle, 3 technique at some point in his career is a possibility as well.”

When he wasn’t playing football, Simpson was a downhill ski racer.

“I started skiing when I was one,” he said. “My mom put me in a little dog-leash harness and put me down the hill. I started racing when I was six.”

Simpson skied competitively throughout Ontario, with some success, and he said skiing and football aren’t as incongruous as one might suspect.

“I’ve always gotten leg power form skiing. It’s translated well to football. Leverage is huge in football so the leg power from ski racing has helped me (and) the agility is unbelievably helpful.

“My aggression from football transferred over into slalom. I’d always be more aggressive,” he said. “I’d end up breaking some of the gates, but it got me leaning over my skis more.”

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