All year round, former Husker and NFL veteran Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In the "Carriker Chronicles" video series, he breaks down the latest NU news, upcoming opponents, player updates and recruiting information, and he offers his insight into the X's and O's and more.
On Wednesday's episode, Adam Carriker talks to former Nebraska split end Ricky Simmons, who shares his personal story on overcoming addiction and how it affected his football career.
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Check out a full transcript below:
Adam Carriker: Welcome to the Carriker Chronicles, The People’s Show, where we check the pulse of Husker Nation. Brought to you by Nebraska Spine Hospital. Today I am joined by former Husker, Ricky Simmons. Here’s a little bit of background info for you fine folks at home before I bring Ricky on. In high school, he was the leading rusher in the entire state of Texas during his senior year. He played for the Huskers from 1979 to 1983. As a freshman and sophomore he was a wingback, and then he did something a little unconventional: he redshirted during his junior year while he switched positions, moving to the split end position his final two seasons. He played alongside the Scoring Explosion, with Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, etc. His last game was the famed 1984 Orange Bowl. How are you doing today, Ricky?
Ricky Simmons: I’m doing great, Adam, how are you doing young man?
Adam Carriker: I’m doing good and I want to thank you for joining me. Now you have quite the story, and we’re going to start from the beginning. You’re now a positive, motivational speaker for those dealing with alcohol and drug addiction, because of your own personal story. You were good at football, but you started using drugs all the way back in middle school. What got you into drugs at such a young age?
Ricky Simmons: Peer pressure, to keep it simple. All my buddies were doing it and I didn’t want to be the odd person out, you know, so I just really wanted to fit in with everybody else. It’s really not an excuse, man, it’s just the same pressures you have today, trying to fit in with your peers.
Adam Carriker: Now, when you were in high school, you were getting recruited by a lot of the big schools. Did any of the colleges realize at the time, that you were using drugs?
Ricky Simmons: I’m not sure if they knew how much I did. My high school coach, who’s no longer with us, we didn’t have a good relationship, you know. When big schools would come and recruit me, he would say little things, like, “he might have more going on than we know” trying to give them a little heads up. But back then it was a little different because the recruiting process, you had to actually watch the games then. It wasn’t broken down into little segments, you had to stay to watch all the offense or all the defense. Coach Osborne came and he watched the whole game film, and I’m sure my head coach gave him the same information, along with Barry Switzer at Oklahoma. But they would all ask the same questions after watching the film, they would say, “You got an address for this guy?” So they basically went to my house without me being there and spoke with my parents. That became the key thing, because it came down to Oklahoma and Nebraska in the end.
Adam Carriker: I was going to ask you, because you were all set to go to Oklahoma and play for Barry Switzer. So how’d you end up at Nebraska?
Ricky Simmons: Well, actually, I was going to go to Oklahoma because they ran the Wishbone and I felt that I could be one of those veer backs, which is what I did in high school. And I was all sold on Oklahoma, because my high school teammates were already freshman on the team. And Barry was a player’s coach, you know, Barry was talkin’ all the right kinds of things for an 18-year-old. I love Barry to this very day, but the difference between Oklahoma and Nebraska, was Tom Osborne. Tom Osborne came in and talked to my parents. He didn’t even really care about talking to me. He really didn’t. I tell people all the time, he recruited my parents, he didn’t recruit me. And when he met my parents and realized my parents were both school teachers with Master’s Degrees, he connected with them right away because of the kind of coach he is. He’s one of the smartest people I know. To be honest with you, by the time I came into the picture before even talking to Coach Osborne, the decision was already made. I just didn’t know it.
Adam Carriker: Haha, well mom and dad were on board, that’s a good sign, right?
Ricky Simmons: Yeah, well, two against one, I didn’t like my odds right there. Actually, three against one, I should say. So that’s how that happened. My dad was a real, no nonsense guy. World War II Veteran. This guy was really serious when he spoke. I mean, he didn’t know how to whisper. Everything was loud. He was like, “We’re going to Nebraska!” and I was like, “Nah dad, I want to go to Oklahoma.” He started approaching me with his fists balled up and he wasn’t smiling, so I made a business decision and started bagging up. And when I realized there was no more room to bag up, I was like, “Where we goin?” “We’re going to Nebraska, Go Big Red!”
Adam Carriker: So that worked out for ya!
Ricky Simmons: Yeah, it worked out real well for me, actually.
Adam Carriker: Now, there was no drug testing in the 70s or 80s. You continued to use, did that affect your performance, and what was it like playing with The Triplets; Gill, Rozier, and Fryar?
Ricky Simmons: Okay, well as far as the drug testing, it wasn’t an issue because they didn’t do it. And I had been doing it for so long- because, truth be told, a lot of people don’t believe what I’m about to say, but I didn’t like football. It was a deal that I made with my dad in fifth grade, if I played ball, I could get what I wanted. Fifth grade, bicycle, middle school with girls, you want to look a certain way to get the girls, then in high school I got my license and I wanted a car, so that’s why I got into football. It just so happened- I don’t like guys like Adam on the football field, because in my personal opinion, all people on defense should be in anger management. (Adam laughs). Those guys were kind of different, man, so I ran for my life. It just so happened that I was fast, but it wasn’t because I was good, I just wanted to live. These guys were out here trying to, you know, take me apart.
When I got to Nebraska, I kept doing what I had always done. Playing with Irving, Turner, and Mike- here’s some other guys we had on that team, Dean Steinkuehler, I got a chance to play with Dave Remington as well, so we had some studs, man, and the thing was when I moved to wide receiver, it was because I didn’t want to deal with defensive ends! Wing backs had to block, and back then it was a little different than the offense they run now. So when I got to wide receiver, I had to deal with defensive backs, and I felt they were a little closer to my size.
As far as playing alongside those triplets, I heard the same story every week. Mike would get three touchdowns, Irving would get one, Turner would get one, then Coach Osborne would be like, okay, first team out. I would ask, “Coach, what about me?” It was always, “Aw, Ricky, we’ll try to get you one next week.” I heard that for 12 straight weeks! But those guys were putting in work. I mean, it was an honor, don’t misunderstand, it was an honor to be a part of that. I took a lot of pride in just being a starter on that team. It was a very good experience for me.
Adam Carriker: So when you look back on those days, there was no drug testing, so it was at your discretion how much you wanted to use. How much would you say that you were using and how did that affect your performance?
Ricky Simmons: Well, here’s the thing- I never really was a drinker. Alcohol wasn’t the thing. I smoked weed, that was kind of my thing. I didn’t do anything else. I had the mindset that, it’s just weed, it’s not that bad. The thing about it, I was a good student, because my parents raised me where if I didn’t have the grades, I couldn’t go play. So passing my classes wasn’t a problem. And being on time- my dad was not willing to hear that you were late. There was never a valid excuse to be late. So I was always on time, I learned all my plays, and one good thing about when I played, was that we didn’t have the technology then that we have now. So Coach Osborne would tell me the play and I would run it into the huddle and tell Turner Gill, and then he would address the team with the play and set a snap count. Some of those plays were quite lengthy. So that was a sure way to get on the field, because for example, the last play I carried into the ’84 Orange Bowl game you talked about earlier, was when we went for two. The last play was: I Right, 51 Fake, Wingback Reverse Left, Wingback Motion, …. Tell Turner to check to 49 pitch. And I slowed that down so your audience could understand it!
Adam Carriker: That’s long!
Ricky Simmons: That’s what I’m saying, man, you run that in there and everybody’s looking at you, if you get it wrong, I think my junior year, I blew one play against Penn State. Man, that’s a long walk from the huddle to the sideline, when Turner Gill goes, “What’s the play?” And I go, “Maaaan, he said tight right… uhh… GAAHHHH, TIMEOUT!” So we walked to the sideline, and Coach Osborne looked at me and he goes, “What happened, Ricky?” “Coach, I got in the huddle, and I just forgot.” He said, “Well, keep your head in the game, man!” That was the second game my junior year. I never missed another play all the way through my junior year or my senior year.
Adam Carriker: Out of curiosity, we’ll go back to your story, but after that novel you said that was the two point play that didn’t work, what was the team’s reaction after that play in the ’84 Orange Bowl that ended the game?
Ricky Simmons: Well, naturally we were crushed, because we were 12-0, we were the number one team in the nation for 12 straight weeks. Mike won the Heisman that year, Dean won the Outland, so we just knew we were the best team in the nation. But after that play, nobody really put their head down because we knew we had a choice. We could kick the extra point, tie the game, probably win the National Championship, or we could just go for it, and be 13-0, which is what we all wanted to do. We just missed it. It’s football, you know that, it’s just football. It was one of those things. We didn’t drop our heads, we felt like we went down there to win, we didn’t go to tie. That was our mindset.
Adam Carriker: I’ve always said, Real Men Go For 2. Now let’s get back to your story a little bit. You were drafted and played in the NFL. You were offered a contract by the Atlanta Falcons and signed. But then you left the team because, and I saw what you said someplace else, “Football was getting in the way of your drug use.” Talk to me about that decision and what that conversation was like with the Falcons.
Ricky Simmons: Let me back up to the USFL first. In my rookie year I was drafted by the Washington Federals. After one season with them is where I picked up the habit. Then we lost so many games, they sold our team, and we became the Orlando Renegades. My second season in that league was with Orlando. And we lost a ton more games there. Then after that second season, the league folded. Well, when I got picked up as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons, I was pretty much a full-blown addict and didn’t even know it. It was just something I thought I was doing just to be doing. When I got to Atlanta, I realized one day at practice- I had done what most drug addicts do, I found me a connection, and I was using two or three nights before the first game, and cocaine convinced me that football was getting in the way of me getting high. So Thursday before the game, I went into the Atlanta Falcons head coach’s office after a night of using, and told him I quit. They thought I was joking. They started laughing. They had nicknamed me ‘Little Cornhusker’ because they figured all Nebraska players were like you, Adam. Big guys. So they were like, “Oh, Little Cornhusker, go get ready for practice, we’re going to feature you this week against the Saints.” So I said, Okay, and left the facility. And they never saw me again. I missed the next couple practices and the game, and on Monday they released me. That was what I wanted, because I had made a decision that drugs were more important than football.
Adam Carriker: Now earlier, you said you picked up the habit. When you say that, you mean you started using crack cocaine and that was your first year in the USFL, correct?
Ricky Simmons: Yeah, I never did no- I smoked weed in college, I admit to that. But that’s all I did. Then I went to the pros, and I went to a party after our first game, and I got hooked on cocaine the first time I tried it. I didn’t even know I was hooked on it, I thought I was doing something because that’s what everybody was doing. I didn’t know it was going to be a problem that would come back to haunt me the way it did.
Adam Carriker: Now, you never sold cocaine, but you bought so much it was like you were a dealer, and you caught the attention of police, which led to you spending multiple stints in jail. How many times did you end up there and how long were you in for?
Ricky Simmons: Well, man, I almost need a calculator to answer that one. I’ll say it this way: You’re absolutely right, I was purchasing as much as someone who was selling, but I had it for personal use. And to be honest with you, I was the type of drug addict that was a little different than most people. If you were around me and wanted to get high but didn’t have the funds, I gave you dope. Because I was not that addict that was very selfish with it, I was like, hey man if you want to get high, here! Purchasing like that drew the attention of law enforcement, and I went to county jail multiple times. I can’t even count the times I went. I ended up going to prison four times, and when I added up the prison sentences alone, they totaled up to be a decade.
Adam Carriker: Wow. Now, you were in prison in 2008 and you received a letter from Tom Osborne that kind of helped change everything. Talk to me about that letter.
Ricky Simmons: Well that’s a very interesting thing, because at that point I had been to prison a couple times already in Texas. Then I got out and took care of my parents while they were in their elder years in ’04 and ’05. I lost them both in ’06. Well, after that I felt like there was nothing else for me in life. I loved my parents. Then with the addiction, I went overboard with it. I ended up in prison again in 2007 here in Nebraska. I hadn’t talked to Coach Osborne in 20 years. Because when I was doing drugs, I stayed away from the football program. I didn’t want to project that onto the program. So I stayed to myself and did what I did. So I’m in prison here in Tecumseh, and I didn’t even know Coach Osborne knew I was in. Somehow he knew- he has long arms, I do know that. Somehow he found out that I was locked up, and he wrote me a letter. It was only a paragraph. But that letter, to this very day, I give credit to that letter for changing my life. The letter was real simple, it said:
I know your parents believed in you. I believe in you. Upon your release, if there’s anything I can do to help you, feel free to contact me.
Right then and there in my prison cell, I fell on my knees and turned my life over to God. Today I am a very spiritual man. I’m not necessarily religious, I’m not the guy that’s going to make you feel like you need to go to church, but if you ask me, I’m going to tell you what I believe in, and I believe in God.
Adam Carriker: What was turning your life around? That had to be a heck of a transformation. And what’s been the biggest key to staying sober since 2008?
Ricky Simmons: Well, to be really honest with you, when I fell on my knees in my prison cell and turned my life over to God, I don’t know how to explain it, but when I got up my thinking just started changing. It was almost instant. I remember grabbing a legal tablet and a pen, and I wrote down three things that are very important. I still live by them today. The first thing I wrote down was the initials, PMA, which stands for Positive Mental Attitude. Basically what that is, is treating people the way you want to be treated, but the key to that is, I don’t expect it in return. For example, if I’m really nice to some person, a stranger, like Hey, how you doing today? And they don’t respond, there was a time when I would take that really personal. Today I laugh to myself. And I think, man, it sure sucks to be them. I didn’t try to do anything negative.
Also, being humble is part of this Positive Mental Attitude. Nothing is more humbling than to admit all your faults to a bunch of people that you don’t know. That’s kind of what I do when I go out and speak. I know what it is to be humble today because I know what it’s like to be a top athlete- you know the feeling yourself, in the league having what society thinks is you got it all, and then losing everything. And having to start all over again. So I know that feeling and I’ve never forgotten that feeling. So, as of December of 2009, I got out of prison for the last time, and then I started what I do now. I haven’t looked back.
As far as staying clean and sober, it’s not hard for me at all because I gave up everything. You’re talking to a guy that smoked cigarettes as a teenager, did drugs- cocaine for 25 years. But when I got out of prison, I quit everything. I don’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t vape, I don’t do alcohol, no drugs- I gave it all up. When I got out in December of 09, I never touched anything since. I stayed focused on growing my business, which is my speaking business, and my foundation, which is RCS Triumph. Basically, I use that foundation to afford to go to different states and speak to underprivileged youth or adults about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. That’s the place we focus. Because I’m not going to be a hypocrite and tell someone’s kid not to use drugs and alcohol, and then I’m the first one at the bar. No. It don’t work like that. I drink spring water. I usually bring my own, by the way.
Adam Carriker: I like that, I like that. Now, I know you’re big on routine. You meet with Coach Osborne weekly, you go to bed at 6 and get up at 3AM every day. Talk to me about these meetings with Coach Osborne, and about this routine- why you go to bed so early and get up so early.
Ricky Simmons: No problem. I’ve met with Coach Osborne once a week for the last ten and a half years. The meetings usually last for two to three minutes because I know he is a busy man. I do them for accountability purposes. Usually, they go like- I’ll walk into his office, he’ll go, Hey Ricky, how are you? Then I’ll say, Well I’m doing good Coach, how are you? And he’ll say, Good, what’s going on? Well, I just want to look you in the eye and let you look me in the eye to see that I’m still doing the right thing, and oh by the way, I’m still using you as my reference. And his response is usually somewhere along the lines of, Ricky, we’ve been hearing good things and when they call here, we’ll be waiting on them. Alright, Coach, see you next week!
And I usually leave unless he’s got something he wants to talk to me about, then he’ll say, Hey hey hey! Come here for a minute. You know, but for the most part, it’s an accountability thing. For the first five years I was doing it, I was still building my business, so on those slow days, I had to shovel my way out to be able to go and meet him. But these last five years I’ve done a little better, so I’ve been able to afford a snow blower so it’s a little easier.
As far as the routine, I started it in prison. Just going to bed at five o’clock. Because usually all the things that were required of me were done by then. And that was after dinner. So from six to when lights were out, which was around ten at night, that was kind of like free time and that’s when guys were making choices and doing things that I didn’t want to participate in. There was some stuff going on in these prisons that I just didn’t want to be a part of. They were sneaking and smoking weed, and sneaking and smoking cigarettes. So I’d just go to bed. And after going to bed at five or six in the evening, at three in the morning I’d just pop up with no alarm clock. Everybody would be asleep, so I’d start my day at three in the morning. It worked so well getting me through the prison time, I just brought the routine home with me.
Still to this day, I was up at 3AM this morning, drinking coffee out of a prison mug. That don’t make a lot of sense to most people, but I do it because it reminds me of where I got the mug from. But don’t misunderstand me, if I’m working or I have a speaking engagement, I will stay up however long I need to. If I don’t have anything going on, I just go to bed and I don’t care if it don’t get dark ‘till nine. So what? It’s dark in my basement at 6PM.
Adam Carriker: There ya go! Now, Terrell Farley, probably the best defensive player from the 95 Championship team, was actually kicked off the 96 team because of the drinking issue he had. He’s clean now, and you two speak almost on a daily basis. Tell me a little about your relationship with him and about his story as well.
Ricky Simmons: Well, Terrell was- I knew who he was, I never met him but I heard the name and I knew how good of a player he was, but it was kind of interesting because we went to a Spring Game. At halftime, I don’t know how it is now, but it used to be the kids would come out onto the field. And they would rush the kids off to start the second half. Well they were rushing them off and Terrell was standing on the field on the 20 yard line with a sharpie in his hand and kids were running by him trying to get off the field. I could tell he wasn’t in a good place, but I just kind of stay to myself when it comes to stuff like that so I just kinda left him alone. But I thought it was kinda strange. And the next week he had reached out to Coach Osborne, and Coach told him if he wanted to get his life turned around, he needed to reach out to Ricky Simmons, which is me.
So he reached out to me and we set an appointment for him to come to my office and we sat and talked. He was still trying to figure it out, so I was just real honest with him and said, you know, Coach Osborne is a good man. He asked me to meet with you and that’s why I’m meeting with you. To be honest with you, I’m not Coach Osborne. I’m very serious about this recovery thing and if you’re not serious, I totally get it. Just tell Coach it’s not a good fit. And he said, No, I want to turn my life around. I said, Okay, well, we’re going to start off with this. I need to hear from you every day. If you ain’t got two minutes to call me every day, then you don’t want it. He said I’ll do it, I’ll do it. And sure enough, he started to do it. We developed a friendship and I got to where I could talk to him about choices and how he was going about doing things going forward in a sober lifestyle. And bam, over five years later, he called me this morning. He has been very accountable to his recovery and very committed to talking to me every day. Sometimes it might be at different times, but daily I talk with Terrell. He’s been very serious about being sober and that means a lot to me. I don’t judge people, I don’t think that’s my job, but if you’re not serious about it, I think it’s only fair that you leave me alone because I’ve been serious about it.
Adam Carriker: Well that’s awesome, it’s awesome what you’ve been able to do with your own story, your own life, the impact that you’ve had on other people’s lives. So tell me a little bit about your mission to help people today who might be struggling with an addiction, and tell me your message to those people who are struggling.
Ricky Simmons: Absolutely, well, my mission is very simple. I like to try to encourage people to look at life without drugs. Because there are a lot of distractions in our society based on what’s legal in this state and it can’t be that bad… there are ways to justify using that stuff, especially marijuana. And I use my story where I basically throw myself under the bus. So that the kids and adults don’t feel picked on. I’m like, this is what I did and this is how it turned out for me. I call myself a pretty smart person. And I’m pretty sure a lot of people that I’m talking to aren’t dumb, they’re just making some bad choices. My mission is to eliminate that one excuse that I hate to hear come out of people’s mouths, which is when you ask them why they even do that and they answer, I don’t know. That’s a terrible excuse to do something. That’s like saying, okay, we’re all going to go to the State Capitol and jump off head first. And you just say, okay! I’m gonna do what y’all doing. I think that’s just dumb.
So I created Simmons & Associates which is my speaking business, and I created RCS Triumph Foundation. I use that to raise funds, it’s a 501c3 that people can donate to and write it off. That way I can take those funds and go all over the country, helping as many people as I can. I don’t wish what I went through on anyone. I feel blessed that I was able to survive it, because a lot of my friends are no longer with me. The ones that still are, a lot of them don’t even know how to say their own name. For some reason, God preserved me in a way that I can go out and help others. So it’s my passion. Every day I look for opportunities to go out and help others.
For a long time I would just do it out of my heart, which I still do, but Coach Osborne kind of pulled me to the curb on one of those meetings and said, Hey you gotta start charging. You can’t keep doing it for free. It’s true, he made a valid point. He was like, how many plane tickets, hotels, tanks of gas, and bills are free? And it’s true. I was going- to this day, I go from California to New York, I go wherever. If people reach out to me, and I can do it, and it fits in my schedule, I’m there dude. Because I love trying to help people. That’s my mission in life right now. I dedicated my life to making my parents in heaven proud of me. And I know this is one thing that would make them proud of me. Because they never got to see the Ricky Simmons that most people see today. I was actually still using drugs when they both passed in 2006.
Adam Carriker: Now if people want to hear you speak or they want to find you on social media, I know you have a YouTube channel, you alluded to your foundation, how can people get a hold of you?
Ricky Simmons: If you want to get in touch with me, you can find me at www.rickycsimmons.com That’s my website. I’m also an author, I sell my books through my website, and there is a tab on there for my RCS Foundation where you can donate to the foundation. You can also reach me on Facebook, I do a lot on Facebook, @Ricky C Simmons, you can message me there. I’m really trying to get people to subscribe to my Ricky C Simmons YouTube Channel so that I can promote more positive messages. So that’s another avenue where people can reach out to me. I’m available, I’m on Instagram, I’m on Twitter, it’s very easy to find me. @RickyCSimmons on Twitter, Instagram @SimmonsRickyC I try to make myself as available as possible. Most of your followers know how to contact you, so if they’re having trouble finding me, I’ll put it on you to make sure they get in touch with me.
Adam Carriker: I’ll help out any way I can, check out his website, his YouTube, his books, the foundation… I met Ricky two springs ago. He made a pretty good impression on me. I was excited to bring him on the show, I was excited to get to know his story before I brought him on, I’m excited to learn more as well. If you are having trouble getting ahold of him, hit me up on Facebook and Twitter, I’m not hard to get ahold of, I can point you in the right direction. I want to thank you for coming on and sharing your story. That takes courage, it’s not easy to do. Until next time, Husker Nation, Go Big Red, and always remember…
Ricky Simmons: THROW UP THEM BONES!!!!!!
Thanks again to the Nebraska Spine Hospital. Ladies and gentlemen, when it’s your spine, you do not want to mess around. Experience matters. That’s why you can trust the experts at Nebraska Spine Hospital, the region's only spine specific hospital. They are the best at what they do.
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