A 4-foot tall, curly-haired 3-year old yells loudly from the stands of Spratt Stadium. She cheers, jumps up and down and screams as her big, brown eyes zoom in one particular football player: No. 7. She’s his biggest fan. As he quickly sprints along the field and attempts to tackle anyone who stands in his way, the little girl yells louder and louder for everyone to hear. “Go Daddy, Go!” This little girl is none other than Missouri Western safety Shane Simpson’s daughter, Juliana.
“When I’m not playing football, I like to be with her,” Simpson said. “We go out and have fun. I love being a father.”
The senior Griffon football player has been playing for Western since 2007 and has had a daughter for over nearly half of his football career. Though people may see being a parent and student-athlete as a difficult situation, Simpson explained that his family and his good friendship with Juliana’s mother make it a lot easier for him, especially when he is in season.
“I can call my mom if I need her, like if we have an away game or something,” Simpson said. “She helps out a lot. My family makes it real easy, and I’m thankful for that.”
In addition to dealing with scheduling and being available for his daughter, Simpson had an even bigger obstacle this season with an ankle injury that kept him out for two games of his senior season. One of these games was Western’s only loss of the season against Missouri Southern at the Homecoming game. Simpson returned to the lineup this past weekend, however, to compete against season rival Pittsburg State, who the Griffons shut down with a score of 63-14. Simpson had a standout game with four solo tackles and an interception.
“It felt good to be out there and being helpful for the team,” Simpson said recapping Saturday’s big win. “That’s what I missed was the team atmosphere. We put a full game together, and we didn’t have any stupid penalties. Everybody kept their composure and just kept playing.”
Simpson, who has been playing football since he was 5 years old, grew interest in the sport when he was a kid often watching the Kansas Chiefs and players like Marcus Allen and Joe Montana.
“I remember all the way back to flag football,” he said. “I’ve been playing every year since. I’ve always liked playing and had fun playing. I didn’t want to quit.”
Simpson, a Blue Springs, Mo., native who played for Blue Springs South High School, drew a lot of attention from local schools and universities before he was recruited to Western. In his decision process, he explained that there was something very unique about Western that really caught his eye.
“Coach P came to my house and I came on a visit,” Simpson said. “I liked all the people here. Everybody was cool and made me feel welcome.”
Coach Jerry Partridge also referred back to when Simpson was recruited and explains what they admire about him.
“He’s a very tough kid,” Partridge said. “He’s been a very good player for us. He’s pretty savvy and he’s got great leadership. He’s kind of a calming influence back there (on defense) and he’s a very good tackler.”
Now, six years and four and a half seasons later, Simpson has grown in speed and size and has become one of the team’s valuable assets.
“He is unbelievably athletic and brings experience and knowledge to the field since he’s been starting at the safety position since his freshman year,” teammate and fellow defensive back Stephen Johnson said. “Opposing teams have to think twice about throwing balls because of his ability to react and make plays while the ball is in the air.”
Simpson is hoping to one day play beyond college, but he has quite a few more goals besides football. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a railroad conductor.
“My dad’s been doing that for like 20 years,” Simpson said. “If I could get on there I would not mind doing that. Retirement is really good and the money is pretty good.”
Beyond his career and football goals, Simpson has one other goal in mind that involves being the best dad he can be for his number one fan.
“It’s just knowing that I have a purpose for her and to be here for her for whatever she needs,” Simpson said. “The greatest part is just hearing ‘I love you, Daddy.’”