As a freshman, Payton Simmons decided not to play football for Manassas Park last season. He wasn’t alone. Other kids in his class shared his concerns about participating for a program that cancelled its varsity season because of low turnout and instead chose to play a junior varsity schedule.
But with increased numbers, including a number of Simmons’ friends, the Cougars returned to a full varsity schedule this season. And with the program headed in the right direction, Simmons had no qualms about coming out. That’s worked to his advantage as well as Manassas Park’s.
On Friday, the first-year varsity running back rushed for 188 yards on 20 carries and scored twice as the Cougars won their first official varsity game since Sept. 15, 2017 with a 42-18 win over host Park View. The matchup featured two programs who did not field varsity teams in 2018.
Simmons recorded touchdowns on runs of 37 yards in the first quarter and 18 in the second as Manassas Park amassed 439 yards of offense, including 344 on the ground. Simmons had another touchdown run called back because of a penalty.
Senior quarterback Andre Kidd, a four-year member of Manassas Park’s football program, added 138 rushing yards on 11 carries and three touchdowns. Kidd also threw for 95 yards.
“It felt great,” Kidd said of the Park View win. “I didn’t want to finish my high school career playing junior varsity, but on a varsity level. People were doubting us because we played a junior varsity schedule last season. They are watching us now.”
Simmons and Kidd have known each other since they first started playing together on youth league teams. The two are also members of Manassas Park’s varsity basketball team.
But when it comes to experience, especially in football, Kidd is quick to point out that he holds the upper hand.
“I’m better,” Kidd said smiling. “He’s still learning.”
The one-two punch of Kidd and Simmons gives the Cougars a dangerous backfield. They are a threat to score anytime they touch the ball. Despite starting off the season 1-2, Manassas Park is averaging 324 yards per game on offense and 242 on the ground.
“[Payton] and Andre keep on going,” Manassas Park head coach Mike Kelly said. “They are very shifty.”
Kidd has rushed for over 100 yards each outing, while throwing for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
With his ability to run and pass, Kidd allows Manassas Park flexibility. In passing situations where Manassas Park runs the spread, he lines up at quarterback with Simmons behind him. But in running situations, he lines up at running back and alternates with Simmons as sophomore Jaeden Gorenflo goes under center.
“I know he has the mindset that when we need a first down, he will do it,” Kidd said of Simmons.
Manassas Park, which is playing an independent schedule this season, is still young with 16 freshmen. But the team is making progress.
Overall, Kelly was pleased with how the Cougars responded after starting off with losses to Bishop Ireton (54-15) and Maret (43-14).
“They were good teams and they helped us for prepare for the game against Park View,” Kelly said. “We executed what we needed to work on. Our kids showed they were understanding what we were showing them on film.”