John Simpson took full advantage of the shutdown.
Simpson is a 2020 graduate of Franklin Towne Charter and, when he was a freshman at Penn State Brandywine, his soccer season was canceled.
It certainly wasn’t the way he envisioned starting his college career, but he didn’t sit around waiting for the restrictions to be lifted. Instead, the Morrell Park native worked hard during the shutdown to prepare for his next game.
“I expected to play right away when I got here, but it did help to have more time to practice and get used to everything,” said Simpson, who is a sophomore, but just completed his freshman season of eligibility because the 2020 season was canceled. “It helped having practices and just getting that experience under my belt. I knew it was a top-notch program, but the idea was that I’d come in and play right away.
“It’s a jump going from high school to college. At times you see a huge difference, but there are kids who played in the Public League that were really good, so that helped you prepare. In college, all of the players are at that level, so it does take some getting used to, you don’t have the low-level kids, so that makes college a little harder.”
Simpson didn’t show it.
The Nittany Lions went 13-3-3 in the fall, and went on to win the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II national championship by knocking off Five Towns College 3-0 in the championship game in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
After platooning with Elijah DeBooth during most of the season, DeBooth suffered an injury during tournament play, so Simpson stepped in and guided the Nittany Lions to the championship.
On the season, Simpson recorded 35 saves and had a 1.39 goals against average. He played even better in the tournament, allowing two goals in three games, including shutouts in the final two games of the year.
It was the second championship of Simpson’s career, having won one when he was a junior at Franklin Towne Charter, and he holds all of those titles close to his heart.
“Winning a championship in high school was the best thing I’ve ever done because I never thought I was going to play college soccer, but winning that made me want to go on and play,” said Simpson, who was a member of the USCAA All-Tournament team for his heroics in helping the Nittany Lions win the crown. “Playing at Franklin Towne changed my life. Once I won a championship, I knew I wanted to keep playing and do it again.
“Doing it in college, it was a whole another level. It was great, we got to go on a little trip. It was different, I guess, because of COVID, we couldn’t have a lot of fans and not many people traveled. It was just mostly parents, but we still had fun. We played hard and won a championship, so that means a lot.”
It was also special, because just like he did at Franklin Towne, Simpson was able to share the championship feeling with his cousin, Conor Lines.
Lines, also of Morrell Park, was a key player for the Warriors in high school and he had a huge hand in helping the Nittany Lions advance to the tournament. He succeeded on and off the field, making the All-Academic Team this year.
“It was really big, he was a big help for the team, he had an ankle injury so he didn’t play as much as he wanted, but he was one of our best players, I would say,” Simpson said of Lines, who scored three goals and added five assists as a freshman this year. “We’re really close, so we won the Public League championship together and we won this together, too. I definitely think that makes it more special. We did it together. We did it together in high school and college.”
Simpson and his teammates now know what it takes to win at the college level. The next test is to do it again.
Simpson plans on working just as hard this year. He’s also playing indoor soccer to prepare for the 2022 season.
He’s also focused on his studies, carrying a 3.2 grade point average while majoring in finance.
“It’s been good, the teachers are a lot of help, if you need to leave for a game, they let you make up work,” Simpson said. “I’ve always been interested in finance and accounting, I’m pretty good with numbers. I picked it because you can make money and I enjoy it. It’s going well.”
For now, it’s stay sharp and stay ready. The goal is to run it back in the fall.
“I still have three years of eligibility left, but I’ll graduate in two years so I’ll probably only play two more years,” Simpson said. “I love being up here, I’ll probably get a job over the summer, but we really all want to win it again. It’s such a great feeling winning a championship. We have a lot of good players, it’s always our goal to win it.
“It feels good to win it with your friends and my cousin. He’s a fiery player and he’ll be back next year. I think we can play even better.”