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Ricky Simmons recently visited his parents' grave sites in Texas.

He visits every year around Thanksgiving out of respect for Clyde and Bertha Simmons, who raised him right.

"I do it to let them know that everything they did for me was not taken for granted and I'm going to make them proud of me," says the 51-year-old former Nebraska receiver (1979-83).

A native of Greenville, Texas, Simmons was the Huskers' second-leading receiver in 1983, behind All-American Irving Fryar. Because of Fryar's notoriety, Big Red fans tend to forget Simmons. But he was talented enough to play in the United States Football League for two seasons and eventually the NFL Atlanta Falcons.

He'll tell you he was a bona fide genius -- intelligent enough to find a way to go from pro football to prison, the result of his addiction to cocaine.

He blames nobody but himself.

He emphasizes that he's not the stereotypical hard case who comes from a difficult background.

"This is just my personal opinion: I feel like in our society, a lot of people want to make excuses for all the things that happen to them," Simmons says. "When you make excuses, you never own up to anything. As long as you continue to have that mind-set, it's almost like setting yourself up for failure."

Consider this an epilogue to a story we ran about Simmons in July. It is the story of a man who turned his life around and shares his experiences around the state as a motivational speaker and licensed drug and alcohol counselor.

It's the story of an ex-Husker, who while in prison in 2008 received a three-sentence note of encouragement from his former coach, Tom Osborne. At that moment, Simmons says, he turned his life over to Christ.

Never underestimate the power of a small act of kindness -- such an act can be a meaningful (and inexpensive) Christmas present.

Friday, Simmons will speak in Geneva, his 76th such presentation since March of 2010. He speaks at high schools, group homes, youth organizations, Boys Town, churches, victim-impact panels, wherever he can make difference. He seeks to drive home a basic concept: Take responsibility for your actions.

I attended one of Simmons' sessions recently at a Lincoln church. The group was mostly inmates in a work-release program. I was struck by his brutal honesty, and his charisma. He took time to chat with folks long after his speech was finished. He is a natural speaker, with a story that is at once painful and inspirational.

He knew years ago he had issues, but kept the party rolling anyway. He didn't care what people thought of him. He didn't care until he lost everything. His parents had passed away. He was in prison -- his third and final stint. He reached ground zero. He began to look closely at the big picture. What went wrong?

It was all on him, he says.

He came from a solid background -- his father was a junior high school principal and his mother a remedial-reading teacher for elementary school students.

His parents had a strong set of values, Simmons says. When a slew of college coaches offered him materialistic items to help lure him to their programs, his parents were unimpressed. They felt Ricky belonged at Nebraska.

Clyde Simmons used to tell Ricky that he was "a million-dollar guy." Dad saw the potential, the personality. Ricky has that somewhat rare ability to connect with all sorts of people, from all walks of life.

Osborne, as we know, is extremely intuitive. He evidently sensed Clyde and Bertha's belief in their son.

Dear Ricky, I know your parents believed in you. I believe in you. Upon your release, if there's anything I can do to help you, feel free to contact me.

Tom Osborne

Yeah, three simple sentences. Three sentences that helped inspire a man to change his life and help others do the same. You can't put a price tag on that sort of power.

Merry Christmas to all.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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