For the past three years, it would be hard to admit that Marion's student-athletes aren't looking bigger, faster, and stronger.

This spring, people finally took notice.

The National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA) named Marion strength and conditioning coach John Simmons its 2023 Arkansas state strength coach of the year.

Past winners of the award are Price Holmes in 2022 and Colin Roberts in 2021.

“This is so awesome for me because it's really a reflection of the great kids and coaches I work with,” said Simmons. “It's huge that our coaches have gotten into our program and the kids have taken it very seriously. It makes coming to work every day a lot of fun.”

Simmons arrived in Marion three years ago after previous stops at an array of places, including the University of Mississippi and St. George's Independent School.

“Our goal is for even kids who don't plan on playing after high school to be as prepared as possible,” said Simmons. “For the kids who do aspire to be a college athlete, we want them to be over prepared Knowing the right technique, wanting to work and get bigger and stronger because what we know is that the more prepared you are for anything, the better you'll ultimately do.”

Simmons grew up in Navarre, Fla., where “I probably thought I was better than I was,” said the coach. “At the time I really only knew about Division 1 football, but my coaches knew about Delta State University (in Cleveland, Mississippi). They'd won a national championship just a few years earlier, they were a great program and I was into it.”

Simmons walked on initially at Delta State but earned a scholarship within a few weeks of making it to campus. He redshirted his first year when he “found out how unprepared I was for college football,” said Simmons. “I needed that first year to get going.”

He wound up starting most of the games in his last four seasons before he made it to the Arena Football League before he entered the world of strength training in 2008.

After working less than a year as a sports performance coach at Velocity Sports Performance, Simmons shifted to Oxford, Miss., and the Ole Miss Rebels, where he was the assistant coordinator of strength and conditioning for more than five years.

A short stint at D1 sports training in Memphis opened the door at St. George's as director of strength and conditioning when Marion came calling.

“I wanted to be here because the administration is awesome, they're all about being the best,” said Simmons. “My bosses believe in what I believe in. Our coaches do as well. The kids are totally bought in and we have just about everything we need to have a successful weight program. This is a great place to be right now.”