When you first see Ja’Ton Simpson, just his stature gets your attention.
But when you engage the former University of Grizzly receiver in conversation, one quickly realizes that he has so much more to offer than his athletic prowess.
And let’s face it, at 6-foot-5 and north of 250 pounds, one had better listen to what the former Californian has to say.
A family man with two young children (Elijah and Jazlon) and a wife (BreAnna), Ja’Ton (say Jay-Tawn) Simpson came to UM in 2001 after earning seven letters in football, basketball and track at Bellflower High School near Los Angeles.
But it wasn’t long until Ja’Ton, who considered pursuing chemical engineering at Cal Poly, realized that he needed to use collegiate athletics as an academic vehicle for his future.
And similarly he discovered that because of his stature, he had credibility to talk to high school athletes about not just sports but the increased importance of school.
“I’ve been on a mission to be a great role model for these Montana kids, which actually gives me a chance to return some of what Montana has given to me over the last decade,” said Simpson. “Grades really do matter. You can’t get anywhere in life without academics.”
Wanting to paint with a broader brush, Simpson recently founded “Prep Mentors,” which he believes will give him an opportunity to touch even more young people at a critical time as they prepare to leave high school.
“That’s powerful coming from an ex-Griz football player,” said Simpson, who one spring semester was taking 20 credits while also toiling on the gridiron.
Simpson played tight end behind All-American Willie Walden and was a prime contributor on special teams but was also hampered by injuries at UM.
But he has not been whiling away his time since completing his collegiate career in 2005 and graduating with a business degree.
He still works several jobs, including as a disc jockey, which is when a friend asked him to help his son become a better football player.
And during that process, which eventually moved beyond athletics, he discovered what he believes he was meant to do in his life and thus Prep Mentors was formed.
“I’m not just trying to reach sports kids,” Simpson, who already has talked to Missoula Superintendant of Schools Alex Apostle about his idea, said. “I want to reach all kids.”
The product of a single-parent home in Long Beach, Calif., Simpson’s story should ring familiar. Early on he knew he had to escape the perils of the gang and drug life on the street and jumped at the opportunity to come to a place he knew little about.
“I’m so glad that I picked this place,” he said. “I was trying to get away from LA and start a new life.”
Now 29 and always filled with a bevy of entrepreneurial dreams, Simpson is convinced his wide swath of experience can be used to better focus high school students on not just the importance of what is ahead of them in the near future but also provide options no one told him about before he was offered a football scholarship.
“There’s not one kid I can’t relate to everything that they’re going through,” he said. “I just really think I’ve been seasoned for this opportunity to help.”
To be sure there will be funding challenges – he’s looking for grant opportunities and maybe an investor – and the idea is far from reaching fruition. But I’m betting Ja’Ton has the stamina and fortitude to bring it about.
If you’d like to contact Simpson, he’s on Facebook or you can reach him at 862-200 PREP (7737)
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