ASU football redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone, for one moment, broke through. He didn't want to look back at his college career and his Senior Day and see himself debilitated and held back by crutches.
So he tossed them aside.
"When I get pictures and look back on that moment, I don't want to see me on crutches," Simone said. "(It) took a little bit of pain walking out, but my adrenaline was rushing, so I didn't feel too much. It was a great time, just a real special moment."
Simone's college career was over due to a season-ending knee injury suffered in the first half of ASU's 27-17 win over Washington. The career was undoubtedly a journey, one that took him from an unwanted high school football star from Sammamish, Washington and ended there, in that moment, injured while limping out of the Tillman Tunnel before the Territorial Cup.
As he walked away from the podium Monday after speaking for the first time since the injury, he offered something — a thanks, if you will — to the path and how it's molded him.
"It's been real. Go Devils."
I remember the first time I spoke with Jordan Simone. I was wide-eyed in covering ASU football for the first time for the State Press, and couldn't help but notice a player making plays on the defensive end out on the practice field at Camp Tontozona.
The 6-foot, 195-pound safety was bright and cheerful when I spoke to him. He too was appreciative of the moment, something that has continued even to his last days in Tempe.
What also struck me was his increasingly evident bond with then-backup quarterback Mike Bercovici. Now roommates, Simone and now-starter Bercovici's relationship has remained strong as ever. Bercovici is even spending time at the Simone household this Thanksgiving.
Simone, then a redshirt junior, was in the beginning stages of a breakout season. Two weeks after I talked to him for the first time, he was put on scholarship. Three weeks into the season, he firmly took a grasp of the starting bandit safety spot. He would finish the season second on the team in tackles (100) and was named an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention player for the season.
After earning the captaincy and becoming a senior leader, I saw a different Simone. One more guarded, reeling off lines of coach speak to the countless questions that came his way. Once the cameras turned off, it was the same old Jordan who teased media members for their fashion choices or hummed John Cena intro music as he made his way into the bubble.
Perhaps it was a cautiousness of knowing what he could lose. After all, his success could very easily not have come. He saw it in his father, Ronnie, who was a former ASU walk-on and saw little playing time during his stay in Tempe. His older brother, Gino, saw sporadic playing time at Washington State.
Simone even experienced it himself, having to walk-on with Washington State out of high school after only receiving an offer from FCS school Eastern Washington. He saw little playing time, but wanted a better opportunity.
After transferring to his father's alma mater ASU and sitting out a season, Jordan entered that fateful junior season. His play was not unlike another former ASU defensive player, whose recklessness and football instinct made him beloved among the Sun Devil faithful: Pat Tillman.
This is not to say Simone is the same player, of course. Such comparisons are unfathomable with the man who donned the No. 42, but few players have been as deserving of the "PT42" practice jersey as Simone has.
"Man, if people only knew half of the amount of preparation that that kid does," Bercovici said. "I mean, here's your Jordan Simone speech. I've lived with him for quite a while now. The kid eats, sleeps, and breathes Arizona State football.
"He goes to sleep about 8:30 at night. We make sure there's quiet hours when we're in season, and Jordan, all he does is he stretches, watches film, makes sure he does his homework on time. But the kid is just – he's been my favorite person I've ever watched play football in my entire life."
Simone denies this claim, jokingly saying that former Sun Devil quarterback Brock Osweiler is actually Bercovici's favorite player.
The banter back and forth is common between the two, though, is just a part of why Simone will be remembered.
The effort, the pride, the honor. It's all a part of what makes Simone's legacy as a Sun Devil.
He doesn't look down on a single bit of it.
"Obviously, it sucks that I couldn't play in the last game, but there's not a play from that UW game where I feel like I didn't give everything I had and leave everything out on that field every day, especially in practice the week before," he said. "That's something our coaches always talked about, just going hard every day, and that's something I've always done. So I have no regrets."
Before games, Simone, Bercovici and senior wide receiver D.J. Foster, all roommates, have a tradition; They huddle over by the tunnel with their heads down for one final moment before kickoff.
"That's something we've done before every game, before we run out or whatever," Simone said. "We just come together, and I think we live in the moment for that brief period of time. We tell each other we love each other, as corny as it may sound, but those are my best friends. We live in that moment for a second, just enjoy it. That's something that I'll remember forever, doing that before every game."
On Senior Day, sans crutches, the tradition continued.
Jordan was still the same vocal leader without being on the field Saturday, as the Sun Devil secondary closed the game out with two pick-sixes to seal a 52-37 Territorial Cup victory.
Watch the Territorial Cup highlights here:
"He was phenomenal," coach Todd Graham said. "He was talking to them in between every series, and he had a head set on, so he knew the calls. Just coaching them up and was very much involved and was a great asset to those guys during the game."
Simone would probably make for a great football coach, Graham said.
But I, much like many others, don't expect him to say die to his football dreams just yet.
"If I felt sorry for myself when I was a walk-on, I wouldn't be where I am today," he said. "It's just another bump in the road and something I can overcome and something that is a part of my story and is going to be a part of my journey. I'm looking forward to the challenges that this is going to give me.
"I know that hard work is not going to be a problem for me. I'm ready to put in the hard work and get better. I'll get a chance at the next level, and I'll make it."
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.