Inspired by the single mother who raised him, Simmons finds purpose on the pitch for the Griffins

Kapri (Marcus) Simmons barges through a pair of Lethbridge defenders during a game last season. He is part of an electrifying front five that the Griffins are fielding this season (Chris Piggott photo).
Kapri (Marcus) Simmons barges through a pair of Lethbridge defenders during a game last season. He is part of an electrifying front five that the Griffins are fielding this season (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – A feisty presence on the field, Kapri (Marcus) Simmons often raises the ire of his opponents.

Notably last season, he was entangled in a heated battle against Calgary Dinos' forward Decklin Mahmi – one full of tight checking, never-say-die heart and more than a few words exchanged.

They happen to be good friends.

"Decklin and I have always been competitive with each other," said Simmons, who grew up playing with Mahmi at FC Edmonton Academy. "He's been like a brother to me. On the field when we're not on the same team, it's a battle, but after, of course, we make up, we're friends. It should be good to play against him again. I haven't seen him in a while."

The Griffins (0-1-1) will host those Dinos (2-2) for their home opener on Saturday (2:30 p.m., Clareview Field, Canada West TV presented by Co-op). They'll also host Mount Royal University (4-0) on Sunday (2:30 p.m., Clarke Stadium, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

The fact Simmons is playing university soccer at all after a tough upbringing is remarkable. Raised by a single mother, whom he says put him into the sport to keep him out of trouble, Simmons finds a solace on the pitch that comes with knowing how much he's grown from the challenges in his youth.

"My mom was a single mom," he said of Renee Simmons. "It was me and her basically. She always dealt with me. I wasn't the easiest kid growing up. She made me the person I am today. She raised me. She taught me how to be a man. I have nothing but praise for her. She's a strong woman.

"She's been through a lot and to this day is a single mother who takes care of four kids. She put us in a beautiful home. As a kid, it was pretty difficult. I've seen things a normal kid shouldn't be seeing. So, that's why I play soccer."

Simmons is a role model for three younger siblings, including six-year-old brother Carmelo, whom he sees as a younger version of himself – ("He's just like me. Knowing he loves soccer just like me gives me the motivation to keep playing."). His grandmother Dawn Degraves also played a strong role in his upbringing.

Simmons' other family is his MacEwan teammates and coaches, who have embraced him and his combative style of soccer.

"I'm thankful I have MacEwan. It's my new home," said Simmons. "The boys are like a family to me. There's a lot of them who I've played with since I was a kid."

Simmons further notes that head coach Adam Loga, who brought him in as a rookie last season, has become a father figure to him in an important stage of his coming of age.

"He's grown a lot," said Loga. "His character development has probably been the most rewarding for me as a coach. Obviously, he does his job on the pitch day in and day out for the most part. But him growing as a human being and his character development over the last year we've had him has been tremendous.

"A lot of the guys on our team have a lot going on outside school and the game. I think that makes us as a staff want to work harder for them."

That brotherhood mentality that the Griffins have sets them up for short and long-term success. Simmons points to the developing chemistry among MacEwan's starting front five – himself, Everett Orgnero, Rakan (Ricky) Yassin, Stefan Gajic and Michael Enes. All except Orgnero played together at FC Edmonton Academy.

"Ricky, Michael and Stefan, we've been playing together for four years now, so playing with them, there's a lot of chemistry there," he said. "Now it's just bringing Everett into our chemistry and understanding how he likes to play.

"They're all really good guys and have their own individual skills. It should be exciting how it all plays out."

Loga said the chemistry continues to build between the five, which have the potential to be a special group now and in the future.

"We're not quite there yet, but it's definitely getting better week in and week out," he said.

"We banter them a little bit calling them the fab five or One Direction, some sort of boy band. They've taken it. They watch video together and are trying to figure each other out.

"Where they've come from, they usually get a lot of the ball. Now they have to share it between five of them, so it's just finding that timing and those patterns. We've been working on it a lot throughout the week. They've challenged themselves to find a way to keep improving."

Simmons will also continue his own self-improvement off the pitch as he thrives in his journey as a university player and young man. He will also never forget where he came from. His mother remains his greatest inspiration.

"She can't really come out because she's taking care of my siblings, but she always asks me how my games are and she watches them on Canada West TV," he explained. "Even though she's not there, she's my biggest fan. She's the reason why I play."