Darion Simmons is a man fortunate enough to make his passion his vocation. In February of 2019, Darion left Peoria, Illinois after signing a contract to play defensive end/linebacker for the international professional football team the Frederikssund Oaks in Denmark.
Darion's bright future has been paved with hard work, and perseverance and a great deal of support along the way. One such person was Darion's wrestling coach, "Coach Q", who emphasized in his players one special quote by Vince Lombardi, "the harder you work, the less you surrender". This has been Darion's battle cry since hearing it and he has used it both on, and off, the field.
While Darion has always adapted quickly to sports, his schooling took more time. Says Darion, "Ever since I was young, I struggled with the process of reading and writing. Since 1st grade I have had an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, and was provided special education services". The services that Darion received from the school allowed him to acquire different study habits that matched his learning style. These study habits led to improvement in his grades and overall performance.
One such person that helped him improve his academics was Cindy Jones, Special Educator Teacher at Peoria High School. "Darion was so focused and serious about improving and getting better at school. He was absolutely the hardest worker, in the classroom and at sports, I have ever worked with".
Darion decided that playing football at the college level was something he wanted to try and accomplish. Cindy worked with him to contact different colleges, to improve his ACT score and become NCAA eligible. Darion chose McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois. Darion was awarded a scholarship to play college football at McKendree and accepted.
Knowing that Darion would still need educational supports, Cindy connected him with the Division of Rehabilitation (DRS) Counselor Nancy Anderson. Nancy met with Darion and the two of them developed a plan for college that included the educational supports to be successful. Says Darion, "Nancy (Anderson) always kept me on track. She sent me monthly updates on what paperwork the state needed. She would always respond to my questions quickly and supported me whenever it was needed".
Nancy worked with her DRS Assistive Technology Unit to determine the most appropriate technology for Darion to use for his college studies, which Darion says helped him immensely. "I was provided Dragon Speech software which helped me with writing assignments. I also had a Livescribe Smartpen, a recording device-note taking method. These were valuable tools for my college studies".
Darion graduated from McKendree University in May 2018 and is the first person in his family to have graduated from college. Darion says that students with disabilities should connect with DRS. "DRS is a great program which helps students with disabilities achieve and reach their life goals".
Darion's new head coach, Mark White Nielsen, expects great things from him. Says Mark, "We expect Darion Simmons to become a leader of men for our team. One of the hardest parts of anything in life is consistency on the field and in any other venture. Also, it's important to have the ability to stay calm when the storm hits during the game".
No doubt, Darion's sounds like just the guy to lead his team into the storm and never surrender.
DHS's Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state's lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.
To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, read about DRS Services, or Apply Online.