The success of the Yale defense rests on the exceptionally broad shoulders of safety Barton Simmons ’05.

“He’s pretty much the quarterback of the defense,” safety Matt Handlon ’06 said. “He has to be smart, and he has to know what’s going on.”

A clutch player with a knack for making big plays, Simmons is the go-to guy of the Yale defensive line. The 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound Nashville native began his career in 2000, as a freshman hailing from football powerhouse Montgomery Bell Academy. After three years as a Bulldog, he led the team with 151 career tackles and, after missing the 2003 season with a torn ACL, returned this fall in top form to lead the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts.

“Having Barton back gives us a physical presence that we did not have last year,” Eli head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “His physical play and the way he flies around the field definitely affects the other players around him.”

Simmons made his mark on Eli football early in his collegiate career, earning playing time in all 10 games his freshman year. In his first start for Yale, against Dartmouth in 2000, he had 13 tackles and an interception. His sophomore year, Simmons started every game for the Elis and led the team with 69 tackles on the season. During his third year of play, he finished third on the team with 55 tackles and recorded a season-high nine tackles twice, against Lehigh and Dartmouth.

One of Simmons’ greatest strengths is his knowledge of the game. He has a remarkable capacity for recognizing opponents’ offensive formations and then for organizing the Elis into an effective defensive position.

As an offensive player, quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05 understands just how formidable an opponent Simmons is.

“You’re not going to fool him very often,” Cowan said. “He has a knack for being where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be.”

Simmons’ second exceptional quality is his aggressiveness and his intensely physical style of play. He is an extremely quick player who tackles hard. He is particularly strong at defending against the run. This year, he stands second on the team with 67 tackles and has the most unassisted tackles, with 39.

“I have an itch to really get in the action and try to hit,” Simmons said. “I’m aggressive, and I try to use that to my advantage as best I can.”

Simmons’ leadership qualities are unparalleled. Cowan said he is constantly setting an example for the other players on the field.

“He’s not so much a vocal leader, but one who lets his play do the talking,” Cowan said. “And it speaks loudly.”

Linebacker Ben Breunig ’05 said Simmons is an especially positive influence for the underclassmen on the team, making himself available to answer questions or to help with training.

“He’s the hardest-working guy,” Breunig said. “He’s always in the weight room, always running sprints. He challenges everyone around him.”

Simmons is determined to keep football as an integral part of his life and hopes to pursue a professional career in the sport after graduation this spring. Alternatively, he is considering taking a graduate assistant job and going into coaching.

Entering his last home game, Simmons said he understands a strong performance is required of him in this weekend’s game against Princeton.

“If I get us lined up right, make all the right calls, make sound coverage and tackle well, and if I can get a big play here and there — that might make a difference,” Simmons said. “I just have to play good football.”