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PHILADELPHIA ? There was a time not long ago when Matt Simms thought he might have to pack his winter clothes and head north of the border to pursue a career that seemed out of reach in the league that had been so good to his father.
Simms had bounced around to three colleges in Kentucky, Texas and Tennessee, a journeyman before he even became a professional, so the undrafted quarterback didn?t harbor any illusions: The CFL might be his best bet.
The Jets changed all of that in the fall of 2012 by giving him a chance that paved the way to a life in the NFL. Canada may be permanently put on hold.
?It?s hard enough to get here, so when you do, why leave?? said Simms, who went 7-for-17 for 121 yards in the preseason finale against the Eagles on Thursday night. ?Just stay as long as you possibly can. Just stay until they kick you out.?
For as long as Simms can remember, his name has come with an appendix: Matt Simms, son of Giants great Phil Simms. . . but the people on his team now just view him as one of the hardest-working guys in the locker room, a grinder whose appreciation for being in a place that so many others would die for is palpable.
His improbable rise last year from street free-agent to No. 2 quarterback was aided by injuries to his competition. Mark Sanchez?s season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason and Greg McElroy?s preseason knee injury helped clear the path for Simms, who was Geno Smith?s backup for all 16 games.
He held off veterans David Garrard and Brady Quinn along the way, which meant a lot for a young player trying to carve out his role in a cut-throat business. Mike Vick?s arrival this offseason dropped Simms on the depth chart, but he?s still grinding.
Simms, who clearly outplayed rookie Tajh Boyd in training camp and the preseason, is in line to be the No. 3 quarterback this season. He has a mind-set that all young players fighting to stay in the NFL should adopt.
?In this league, not only are my teammates and my coaches seeing it, but the rest of the league is seeing it as well,? Simms said of trying to impress 24/7. ?So I?m just trying to show everyone that I have the skills and abilities to stay in this league.?
Quarterbacks coach David Lee admits that Simms ?has improved as much as any guy I think I can ever remember coaching.? High praise for a demanding mentor who didn?t take too kindly to the young signal-caller?s post-touchdown salsa dance against the Giants last week.
?I got him on the phone,? Lee joked, ?and told him if he ever did that again I was going to castrate him.?
All castrations aside, Simms has impressed his coaches and teammates with his limited opportunities. He handled himself well in mop-up duty against the Bengals, Bills and Dolphins last season in small, but important steps in his growth.
?Matt?s improved a ton,? Smith said. ?He?s pushed me throughout the entire time we?ve been here. We?ve gained a mutual respect and a great friendship because of that competitive nature that we both have. He?s gotten better with everything: his touch, his understanding of the offense (and) his mechanics in the pocket.?
Simms? greatest strides have been taking a few miles per hour off his fastball. Developing touch is harder than it seems, especially for a wide-eyed quarterback who admittedly didn?t have a full grasp of all the offensive concepts.
?A lot of that had to do with being unsure with the offense,? Simms said. ?So when I was unsure, oh, let?s just rip it in there. Whereas now I know where people are supposed to be, I know how to anticipate a little bit more and what to expect more often. So that allows me to use more diversity in my throws.?
That greater understanding of the offense has had a tangible impact. Simms had completed 69% of his passes in the preseason entering Thursday night. He?s more decisive, making quicker reads, learning anything and everything from his coaches, Vick and Smith. Lee called him ?special.?
Simms will likely spend this season far off the radar, running scout-team work in practice and blending into the background on the sideline on Sundays, holding tightly to a dream that nearly didn?t materialize.
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Pawel Wolak was one of the most exciting boxers of his era, a come-forward fighter who was willing to take two punches, if necessary, to deliver one.
His 2011 draw with Delvin Rodriguez was an epic battle that was the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fight of the Year.
Wolak retired a few months after that amazing bout, announcing on his Facebook page that he was through a couple of days after losing a rematch to Rodriguez.
But, as it turns out, though he was through with boxing, he was not through fighting.
On Oct. 11, Wolak plans to make his MMA debut when he fights an opponent to be named on the American Predator Fighting Championship 17 event at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., just outside of Chicago.
Instantly, Wolak, 32, will become the most successful male boxer to ever transition full time to MMA and one of the three most successful overall, including the UFC’s Holly Holm and One FC’s Ana Julaton. Holm and Julaton were boxing world champions before moving to MMA.
Wolak says he always had aspirations of competing in MMA. (Getty)
James Toney is the biggest name ever to go from boxing to MMA, but Toney fought only once and never planned to make it a career.
Wolak, though, has aspirations and said he was using boxing to prepare himself for what he knew would be an MMA career.
“When I retired, I wanted to take the time to study the new sport I was getting into and be as ready as I possibly could be,” said Wolak, a high school wrestler in New York who is trained by former International Fight League competitor Jamal Patterson. “I knew there would be a point in my life where I’d be done with boxing and that I was going to go on to fight MMA.
“And I wanted to accomplish as much as I could before I was too old to do it. Let’s put it [this] way: I wanted to be able to make the move and do it the right way, prepare myself. I still have my marbles and I’m still physically fit, and now is the time.”
Wolak, who worked construction throughout his boxing career and now serves as a corrections officer at Rikers Island, said MMA appealed to him because it more closely simulates a real fight.
He said it requires a lot more knowledge, training and dedication to be a top-level MMA fighter and that he liked the idea of having to be proficient in all areas.
His goal, he said, is to make it to the UFC one day because he wants to go as far as he can. In boxing, he was ranked No. 3 by the IBF at light middleweight and compiled a 29-2-1 record with 19 knockouts.
His most significant win was a sixth-round stoppage of former world champion Yuri Foreman on the undercard of a show headlined by Miguel Cotto.
“I loved what I did in boxing, but in MMA, it’s a real fight,” Wolak said. “It’s like a street fight in a lot of ways. In MMA, you have to master, well, not master, but you have to know a lot more than you do in boxing. It’s like unlocking a puzzle. You may try this, but then he’ll do this and so you have to do this. Everyone has a strength and you have to be able to exploit it, but you have to be prepared to deal with everything, because you’re going to see a lot more than you would see in boxing.”
Wolak said that while the striking is similar, boxing and MMA are completely different sports. He was a hard hitter as a boxer wearing 10-ounce gloves and figures to be among the hardest hitters in MMA transitioning down to four-ounce gloves.
He laughed and said he hoped the quality of his hands give him an edge, but said he wasn’t counting on it.
“The sport of MMA is evolving all the time and the guys are so much more complete fighters now than they ever were,” he said. “In the past, a guy with one strength could go a long way. But you really have to be well-rounded now because guys are training in everything right from the start.”
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