MANHATTAN — A 10-year NFL career has afforded Mark Simoneau certain luxuries.
The biggest one was to pick and choose when it came to life after football.
“I think that for me, it’s having something that you’re passionate about that you can do is important,” said Simoneau, who was one of nine people inducted this weekend into the Kansas State Athletics Hall of Fame. “Whether it’s running a business or coaching at a high school, it’s great.
“I just really enjoy it.”
Nearly 20 years removed from a K-State football career that left him as one of the most decorated players in school history, Simoneau currently is in his first season as strength and conditioning coach at Gardner-Edgerton High School in suburban Kansas City, where he also coaches linebackers for the football team.
Before that, he spent more than seven years as owner and operator of a Kansas City-area sports performance facility.
“It was something that I knew for me, the impact it had on my career as far as the preparation side of it, developing as an athlete,” said Simoneau, who arrived at K-State from Smith Center High School with a reputation as a workout warrior. “It was a natural fit for me, being able to transition into something I had a passion about, something I enjoyed.
“To this day, it’s just something I really, really enjoy — being around it, teaching, helping kids understand the importance of consistency in doing things the right way, day after day and month after month and year after year. From an athletic standpoint, if they want to be good, it can make a huge difference in their athletic performance.”
Simoneau, 41, played linebacker for K-State from 1996-99, the most successful four-year stretch in school football history, helping the Wildcats to a 42-7 record. As a senior in 1999, he was a consensus All-American, Big 12 defensive player of the year and runner-up for the Butkus Award.
He was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons in the spring of 2000 and spent the next 10 years in the NFL with four different teams before a series of injuries led him to retire ahead of the 2010 season.
Simoneau, who had signed with Kansas City that summer but never played a game for the Chiefs, wasted no time launching a new career, building his sports performance gym from the ground up.
But the demands of running a business, while also working hands-on as a trainer, led Simoneau to sell his business and look for something a little more family-friendly. Married 15 years with two elementary school-aged daughters left little time for anything else.
“When I was running the business, there’s really no clocking in and clocking out,” he said. “And the hours of operation, from a family standpoint, when the kids were home from school, I would be busiest after school.
“So my time didn’t mirror up very well. Being in a school setting mirrors more with what their schedule is, so it allows me to have more time with them.”
Though he remains busy, Simoneau said he now has a little more time to reflect on the latest of his any honors and achievements. He was still playing professionally in 2008, when he was named to the K-State football Ring of Honor at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“It was pretty cool to think you’re recognized in that way,” Simoneau said of learning about his inclusion in the K-State Athletics Hall. “When you play the game, you have no expectations of something like that ever happening.
“You just take it day by day, work at it and you’re trying to win games — that’s the focus. I think as athletes you don’t you have a lot of time to reflect, so when you’re honored this way it kind of makes you think back and reflect on a younger time a little bit more than you normally would.”
It is hardly the first career recognition for Simoneau. In 2011, he was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and the following year into College Football Hall of Fame, just the second K-State player so honored.
But this weekend’s honor, probably more than anything, made Simoneau look back fondly on his days at K-State.
“The memories mean more to you, I think, as time goes on,” he said. “I just feel blessed that I was able to be a Kansas State Wildcat.
“I was blessed that I played for a coach like Bill Snyder and the guys we had on the staff while I was there. We were talking (Thursday) night about how many guys we had on those teams that played in the NFL, and I think guys who were on the roster from 1995 to ‘99, and there were 33 that were drafted during that time.”
Simoneau’s most vivid memories, not surprisingly, were of big games resulting in landmark victories.
“For me, the Nebraska win in 1998 was definitely huge,” he said of a 40-30 victory that ended a 29-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers. “Every year, we thought that we have the team to do it, and we just couldn’t get it done.
“Obviously, historically up to that point in time, it had been a long, long time since we had won that game. So getting over the hump in ‘98 and winning that game and winning it here the way that we did, that memory will stay with me as long as I live.”
Another was the 1997 New Year’s Eve Fiesta Bowl, a 35-18 triumph over Syracuse and future NFL star quarterback Donovan McNabb. Simoneau credited that breakout game for K-State quarterback Michael Bishop with serving as a springboard for the Wildcats’ successful 1998 campaign.
“That was such a great experience playing in that game,” Simoneau said. “I think that kind of let the nation know what we were, and we had so many guys coming back for that next year.
“The energy and feel and just the excitement coming out of that game and going into that next year, it wasn’t just that game.”
The present isn’t bad either for Simoneau, who shuttled between Manhattan and Kansas City on Friday to make sure he was on the sidelines for Gardner-Edgerton’s 35-6 victory over Olathe Northwest. The team is currently 5-0.
“I really do like the strength and conditioning a lot,” he said. “I like coaching a lot, too, but I like to be able to do both.
“This has afforded me the opportunity to do some things, whether it’s coach my kid’s team or maybe go to a gymnastics practice, something I wouldn’t have been able to do before.”