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Simeon Blair brings immediate leadership and walk-on mentality to Memphis

The former walk-on and Arkansas captain is already assuming a significant leadership role in Memphis... before his first snap.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Cincinnati at Arkansas Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thirty-eight names were officially listed on the roster of player representatives at the American Athletic Conference’s 2023 media days in Arlington, TX. Representing a university is typically a high honor held by seasoned veterans and team captains, who must spend two long days serving as a spokesperson for an entire football program.

Of those 38 players at AAC media days, four were incoming transfers yet to play a down with their AAC institution. Two of those players hailed from Charlotte — a team affected by an offseason coaching change and severe roster turnover, as roughly two-thirds of their projected starters arrived from the transfer portal. Another transfer was Rice quarterback JT Daniels, who won a New Year’s Six bowl at his previous stop of Georgia.

Finally, there was Memphis safety Simeon Blair, who relocated from Arkansas during the second week of January. Despite spending just six months on campus and not suiting up in blue and gray stripes on a single Saturday, Blair quickly emerged as one of the leaders for a Memphis team with conference championship aspirations in a new-look AAC.

“I’ve been working on just trying to be an example of being a leader,” Blair said at the conference’s media days. “I’m doing everything they’re expecting of me and more. I just feel like it’s a huge honor from my teammates and my coaches to be able to come here and represent the university.”

Blair held captain status at Arkansas, demonstrating the level of admiration he drew from his teammates and coaching staff at his former SEC stomping grounds. Acquiring a captain from the transfer portal is one plus for Memphis, but also, you’d be hard-pressed to find many more incoming AAC transfers with the sheer experience of Blair. The safety was present on the field for more snaps than any other Arkansas defender in 2022, and he touts a résumé featuring 46 games, 22 starts, 135 tackles, and 11 pass breakups.

“A lot of it is just experience, just being on the field and seeing so many plays,” Blair said on the immediate value he brings to Memphis’ defense. “A lot of offenses do the same things, it’s just tendencies. Learning experiences from there was what really taught me a lot in how to overcome adversity because I walked on there and that really taught me how to be a strong individual, be a strong player, and have a strong mindset.”

Yes, Blair arrived at Arkansas in 2018 as a local prospect without a scholarship. He redshirted his first year on campus, and in year two, the Pine Bluff, AR native only accrued one tackle on special teams. Blair still stuck it out and endured an offseason coaching change when the Razorbacks hired Sam Pittman to replace Chad Morris for the 2020 season. But that move quickly turned the tide of his football career. Roughly one week before the Razorbacks’ pandemic-delayed 2020 season opener, that walk-on status was triumphantly upgraded with a scholarship.

“It’s a lot of ups and downs,” Blair said on operating as a walk-on for two years. “There are times when you’re high, times when you’re low, but you can’t get too low. My parents instilled in me how to work hard and when I got there, I realized just working hard was one part of it. The other part was working hard, getting my studies done, also watching film, and doing it all at once. It taught me a lot and taught me how to be done.”

Blair simultaneously juggled all of the aspects of student-athlete life, including his academic endeavors which are evident in the form of two SEC Academic Honor Roll designations. And once Blair witnessed his hard work on the practice field pay off in the form of the scholarship, it was only time to take the next step.

He started two games in 2020, amplified that number to seven in 2021, and polished off his tenure in Fayetteville as a team captain starting all 13 games for the Liberty Bowl champion Razorbacks. Blair contributed seven tackles and a tackle for loss in that thrilling 55-53 triple overtime victory, providing disruptive coverage on Kansas’ do-or-die 2-point attempt to ice the game. But he didn’t fully realize at the time he was celebrating on his future home turf at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Arkansas at Kansas
Simeon Blair played his final game as an Arkansas Razorback at the Liberty Bowl, where he’ll suit up for Memphis this season.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Several days after the confetti subsided from the bowl victory, Blair entered the transfer portal and began scouring his options. His second visit brought him back to Memphis, and he was immediately sold on the opportunity by defensive coordinator Matt Barnes, who has specialized in coaching defensive backs in the past.

“I love the place, I love the coaches,” Blair said, rattling off his reasons for committing to Memphis. “Coach Barnes, I love his scheme. I feel like it really fits in with me and allows me to use our strengths in the best way possible. I knew as soon as we met that I was gonna come to Memphis.”

Not only did Blair get on board with the coaching staff, but he quickly found the city of Memphis as a fitting home for his final collegiate run. After spending five seasons in the college town of Fayetteville, the redshirt senior rapidly acclimated to the city life 300 miles east in Tennessee.

“It’s totally different from Fayetteville,” Blair said. “Memphis is more of a city so there’s always something going on. It’s always busy, but I kind of like it. I like the city life.”

On the gridiron, Blair will be tasked with filling a massive vacancy left behind in the safety room. Quindell Johnson — who is currently on the Los Angeles Rams roster — was a three-year starter and two-time All-AAC selection, garnering First Team honors in 2022 with 77 tackles, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles. But Memphis’ coaching staff places its full faith in the former Arkansas captain, understanding what his vast experience can bring to one of the starting safety roles.

“It’s unique bringing in a guy like Simeon Blair. Not only is he a fantastic football player. He had a lot of success where he came from at Arkansas — two-year starter, a captain there,” head coach Ryan Silverfield said. “I knew the product was there, so how do you continue to build it? I felt very comfortable with Simeon because Simeon has currently grown into a starting safety on our team, a team leader and a guy that’s done it the right way. I just thought what a great way to showcase him and I think he has a chance to be very, very special in our defense this year.”

Blair walks into a Memphis program entering 2023 with sky-high expectations. The Tigers are proud owners of the AAC’s longest streak of non-losing seasons, having finished .500 or above every year since 2014. Memphis recorded a 7-6 record last season and claimed a dominant First Responder Bowl victory. But in those six defeats, the difference between winning and losing was ever so marginal, proving Memphis wasn’t too distant from a conference championship appearance. Placing palpable belief in the roster around him, Blair didn’t hesitate when stating his premier goal in his new life as a Memphis Tiger.

“My goals are really just to win the conference,” Blair said. “We have a lot of really good guys on this team, led by Seth (Henigan), who’s a great quarterback — one of the best ones I’ve played with. I feel like we have a lot of talent on this team. We just have to own it, be real disciplined, and we’ll be able to do what we feel like we should do.”