Early in camp, UW-La Crosse football coach Matt Janus went to observe a wide receivers meeting.
It’s a normal enough practice to check in on different position groups, but this particular session has stuck with Janus.
See, during that meeting, receivers coach Frank Tierney gave the floor to senior Jake Simuncak, who broke down the Eagles’ offense under new offensive coordinator Michael McGuire and went into detail on different positions. Releases were also a topic of discussion, complete with an analysis of their NFL counterparts.
For about 25 minutes, Simuncak drove the conversation and appeared comfortable doing so.
“I think that’s when we kind of see his IQ,” Janus said. “To be able to work with him — I do it mostly with special teams with him — but to see him with coach McGuire and how he works with coach Frank Tierney, he’s able to butt in almost as a coach at times.”
That’s not an accident.
“I definitely take pride in that for sure,” Simuncak said. “Because I think as good as any player is, if they’re kind of messing up mentally — like they’re not running the right routes, getting to the right spots — it doesn’t matter how fast or good they are with the ball if they just aren’t getting the ball.”
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Simuncak, at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, is plenty fast and good with the ball, too, which makes him an all-around threat on the outside in addition to his duties as UW-L’s punt and kick returner.
Through three games — the Eagles are on a bye this week before opening WIAC play at UW-River Falls on Oct. 2 — Simuncak leads the team in catches (24) and receiving yards (269) while adding four touchdown catches, which trails only junior Cam Sorenson’s five.
“Everything. It’s as simple as that. He does everything, he knows everything,” quarterback Jakob Parks said when asked what has stood out about Simuncak. “He’s in that spot when he needs to be, which happens to be a lot throughout the game.”
Make no mistake, though, it’s not a surprise that Simuncak is performing this way; he was second on the team in catches (55) and receiving yards (649) in 2019 behind Cole Spieker, who was named the conference’s offensive player of the year.
But Simuncak still took steps to improve his game after UW-L lost such a dynamic player to graduation.
The time he spent in the weight room has made him stronger and more explosive, and he has placed an emphasis on route running and releases — particularly from the slot, where he gets more snaps in McGuire’s offense than in the past.
Sorenson said Simuncak is quick to ask questions — ranging from sprint mechanics given Sorenson’s track background to blocking on the edge — and the junior tries to emulate the senior.
“He’s got the greatest work ethic I’ve ever seen,” said Sorenson, who has 10 catches for 139 yards to go with his five touchdowns. “I try to be like him, honestly, when it comes to working. He works on everything, and that’s why he’s one of the best receivers in the country.
“He’s got the most well-rounded game on our team.”
Simuncak has demonstrated that this year. He has a knack for finding soft spots in zones and is a reliable target on third down. His speed and agility also make him nearly impossible to shut down with one-on-one coverage.
“His release off the line is scary,” Janus said. “You know, we play press man on the outside, we don’t have a cornerback that can touch him.”
That makes him effective both in the slot and on the outside, regardless of the situation, as he showed in last week’s 45-24 loss at Division II Grand Valley State (Mich.).
For the second straight week, Simuncak beat his man on a goal-line fade — despite the corner having multiple inches on him — for a touchdown. And on the Eagles’ next offensive play, he ran a post from his spot in the slot before extending for a 30-yard TD grab.
“They had press coverage, I saw. Man-to-man, which to me is a dream, right? I love having the man on man, just kind of trying to beat your guy,” Simuncak said. “So I gave him a move, just one inside, and just tried getting to my spot.
“I saw the ball in the air — at first I didn’t think I was getting to it — I saw it and I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go get it.’ And I got it, it was great.”
When adding in Sorenson, UW-L has a strong 1-2 punch on the outside. Junior Jack Studer has also hauled in big catches, while tight ends Will Josten and Dustin Schultz were more involved in the passing game in Week 3.
And though Parks maintains that his only focus is getting the ball to whoever is open, it frequently seems to be Simuncak.
There’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue after the bye.
“It just seems like he’s always there,” Parks said. “I look, and there’s 2-2.”
Eric Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ByEricLee