Technical difficulties almost made Russ Ehrenfeld miss a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Ehrenfeld, the offensive line coach at Tennessee State, was at his son Brennen’s house last Saturday to watch the 2020 NFL Draft. As the Chicago Bears’ two seventh-round draft picks were approaching on the ESPN telecast, Brennen’s two-year-old daughter started to cry.
Ehrenfeld told his son to put a cartoon on the TV while he went to the other room to watch the draft from his tablet. The moment Ehrenfeld was eagerly waiting for was to see his former offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons’ name appear as the NFL chime sounded.
As Ehrenfeld was watching the draft, his tablet suddenly froze and seconds later his phone began to buzz.
On the line was Simmons’ agent, and he told Ehrenfeld that the Bears were going to select Simmons with their final pick in the draft. And that’s when Ehrenfeld let his emotions go.
“I cried tears of joy,” Ehrenfeld said. “As a coach, we put so much into it and to see something extremely positive happen to an outstanding person be it if it’s getting your name called on draft day or graduating from college I wasn’t going to hold back my emotions.”
The connection between the two started when Ehrenfeld, who grew up 15 miles from New York City in Hillside, N.J., met Simmons, who grew up on a farm with cows and pigs in Selma, Ala., the summer going into his senior year of high school back in 2014.
Though the two had entirely different backgrounds growing up, Ehrenfeld and Simmons found a common bond in constantly wanting to understand the intricacies of offensive line play. One way the coach and player were able to do that was by watching the Tennessee Titans.
Tennessee State’s campus is roughly 10 minutes away from the Tennessee Titans training facility. When the Titans held open practice, Ehrenfeld and Simmons would both go and watch and take notes on the offensive linemen.
“He did that because he wanted to learn and wanted to get better,” Ehrenfeld said. “For him that has been the maturation process.”
Over the years, as Simmons started to learn the nuances of the positions, he grew more confident in himself. He took on the challenge of playing multiple positions, such as left guard, both tackle spots and also, at times, as a center in practice.
With Simmons becoming an all-round better player, he had more dominant performances. Ehrenfeld remembers the times against Middle Tennessee last season where the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Simmons would impose his will and just maul opposing defensive linemen to the ground.
Simmons’ play then started to attract scouts. As the scouts visited, they would ask Ehrenfeld who Simmons compared to, and Ehrenfeld immediately thought of a player he coached at Tennessee Tech.
“He reminds me of Frank Omiyale …,” Ehrenfeld said. “Frank played multiple positions, and Lachavious reminds me a lot of him just all the way around. The total person, character and playing ability.”
Omiyale had a brief stint with the Bears from 2009-2011 and ended up playing eight years in the NFL.
As the scouts kept visiting to see Simmons practice, he continued to gain respect from his younger teammates. And that respect will only continue because his jersey is now hung up in one of two hallways on the third floor of Hankal Hall with the rest of the players who have been drafted over the years.
This fairly new tradition, which has separate hallways dedicated to the offense and defense, is a testament to the hardwork and excellence of all the former Tennessee State players, including Bears Hall of Famer Richard Dent and now the newest member — Simmons.
“Our guys, our recruits, our players they go down those hallways and they see some of this tradition,” Ehrenfeld said. “That’s huge to see those jerseys and know that you can get drafted coming out of an FCS program and historically black college.”
As a seventh-round draft pick, Simmons has an uphill battle ahead of him as he begins his NFL journey. But Ehrenfeld know Simmons has what it takes to make it in the league.
“I think you are getting a great player,” Ehrenfeld said. “I don’t flinch on saying that. The young man is going to work. He is going to buy in to what Juan [Castillo] is teaching. He will do a good job for you [the Bears]. I really believe that.”