COLUMBIA — Just a few days before the Illinois game, Missouri’s new kick returner had to make a change. In order for every player on the kickoff team to have a unique number, Jasper Simmons had to change his jersey number and give up the No. 10 he had worn since high school.
Simmons, a junior college transfer in his first season at Missouri, took jersey No. 9, the number worn by kick returning predecessor Jeremy Maclin.
Maclin left a legacy at Missouri, scoring two kick return touchdowns among his 33 total touchdowns. He was often avoided by the opposing kicker on kickoffs.
Maclin, now a Philadelphia Eagle, watched from the sidelines as Simmons, wearing Maclin’s old number, returned two kicks for 38 yards as the team beat Illinois 37-9 Saturday in St. Louis.
“It was a little weird not to have No. 9 on me in a Mizzou game,” Maclin said by phone Thursday. “It was all right, wasn’t nothing bad about it.”
Simmons’ change of jersey number had nothing to do with Maclin, though. He chose No. 9 simply because he wanted to have a low jersey number and was faced with a limited selection.
“I think having a low number playing safety just looks better,” Simmons said. “It’s just how I felt, so I just didn’t want to go any higher than 10.”
When he showed up to the next practice wearing No. 9, he was reminded of the jersey’s previous owner.
“A couple times during practice they was calling me Jeremy Maclin, stuff like that,” Simmons said. “He was a player. I know everybody was looking for me to fill his shoes or whatever you call it. It’s just a number, I guess.”
Simmons’ need to change numbers was discovered after the team’s coaches decided who would be on the field while it was receiving kickoffs. It was decided that running back Gilbert Moye, a running back who also wears No. 10, would be on the field while Simmons was returning kicks. NCAA rules prohibit two players wearing the same number to be on the field at the same time. Because Simmons had a shorter tenure on the team, he had to change.
For Simmons, No. 10 was more than just the jersey number he wore for the summer. When he was a freshman in high school, he didn’t have enough clout on his football team to choose his jersey number. He was assigned No. 91.
“I wasn’t a big player,” he said. “So they just gave me a jersey.”
By the end of his high school career, Simmons was a captain of the team at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla. He earned third-team All-State honors as a safety. Along the way, he earned the right to choose his jersey number. He decided to add up the digits of his previous number and got the number 10. He wore the number through high school and his junior college career at Hutchinson Community College. It took him a few hours to get over having to switch.
“I talked to my Dad, and stuff like that, about it,” Simmons said. “He told me the exact words that ‘The number don’t make you, you make the number,’ so that stuck in my head. I just had to deal with it.”
Because Moye is a junior as well, it is unlikely No. 10 will open up again during Simmons’ career at Missouri. Whatever he does at Missouri will be done in jersey No. 9.
“It wasn’t like a horrible number they gave him,” safety Kenji Jackson said. “It was a cool fit. It don’t look bad on him at all.”