Marlin Simmons was 10 when he watched his oldest brother, Melvin, play linebacker for Compton Dominguez in the 1996 Southern Section Division II championship game.
The memory of that night, which ended with Dominguez celebrating a 42-16 victory over Chino Hills Ayala, remains a vivid and inspirational image for Marlin, now a senior linebacker at Lynwood.
"I remember my brother making this tackle and the whole crowd saying, 'Oooooh!' " he recalled. "I said, 'When I get up there, that's what I want to do.' I couldn't wait for my turn."
In the Simmons family, making big hits is as natural as breathing.
Rarely, if ever, has there been a collection of football players such as this from the same household: Seven brothers, all of whom play linebacker.
It's been a dream of the boys' father, Melvin Sr., himself a former linebacker at Central High in Kansas City, Mo., that all of his sons would earn college football scholarships. So far, he's two for two. Melvin, 22, is a senior starter for No. 2 USC. Marvin, 20, is a sophomore backup for No. 19 Kansas State. Next is Marlin, 17, who is being recruited by USC, Kansas State and Oregon, among others.
"If they can go to the next level and make some money, that's fine, but the prize is to get a college education," said Melvin Sr., 54, who with his wife Kathleen has 11 children between the ages of 26 and 12.
The key to brothers' success is obvious to those who have coached them.
"When you get a Simmons, you're going to get a football player," said Walter Holloway, the linebacker coach at Lynwood and a longtime friend of the family. "The basics -- blocking, tackling, tenacity. It's bred in them from one kid all the way down."
Melvin Sr. said he tried to instill competitive drive in his children, including the four girls, by organizing family basketball and kickball games when they were young. It was part of his plan to build their confidence and ability to achieve goals.
"I wanted to make them aggressive, to not have any fear," he said. "I always told them if they wanted to do something, they'd have to give 110%."
It's no coincidence that Lynwood's fortunes improved this season after Marlin and two of his brothers, junior twins Marcello and Marcel, transferred last summer from Long Beach Poly.
Marlin quickly asserted himself as a vocal leader, backing up the talk by leading Lynwood in tackles and contributing at running back. He returned from a sprained left ankle Friday night after sitting out the previous game to help the Knights (10-0-1) defeat Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula, 38-28, in the first round of the Division III playoffs at Lynwood Middle School.
"He's taken us to another plateau," Holloway said. "When he walks in a room, you know he's a leader. And that's what we've been lacking around here -- a true leader who will get after it and get in your face when things aren't going right.
"He's been everything I prayed for," Lynwood Coach Jeff Jenkins said.
Marlin, 6 feet and 205 pounds, doesn't physically stand out on the field, "but he does everything right."
Melvin said Marlin is a more mature player than he was at the same age.
"His development right now is probably where I was in my sophomore year in college," said Melvin, who played for two seasons at Washington State before transferring to USC.
Holloway, who has coached the five oldest Simmons boys, said Marlin combines the football savvy and instincts of Melvin with the strength and quickness of Marvin, a prep All-American for Long Beach Poly in 2000.
What sets Marlin apart from his brothers is his ability to excel on both sides of the ball. A standout running back in Pop Warner, Marlin was limited to playing defense in high school until this season. Lynwood started working him in at running back in the fourth game, and Marlin quickly joined quarterback Ashlee Palmer and running back Jared Duren as one of the team's top threats on offense.
Coming into Friday's game, he had rushed for 367 yards and six touchdowns in only 25 carries, a 14.7 yards-per-carry average. Defensively, he was averaging a team-best 11.1 tackles.
The contributions of Marcello and Marcel, who turn 16 on Monday, have been more subtle but no less encouraging. Marcello has blossomed into a competent linebacker and tight end. Though Marcel doesn't start, Holloway rates him among the team's best tacklers and predicts he will play a bigger role next season.
The transfers came after Long Beach Poly coaches told the twins last spring that they would not be brought up to the varsity team this season, Marcello said.
"They didn't think I was good enough for them," Marcello said. "They felt they had better athletes, but they never gave me a fair chance. Now I feel like [Lynwood] is my place, where I'm supposed to be."
Although Marlin was a two-year starter at Poly and had played on the Jackrabbits' Division I championship team in 2001, he said he was "ready for a change."
Said Poly Coach Raul Lara: "I guess the dad didn't feel we were treating the twins right. But we don't just move kids up [to varsity] because they have older brothers who were really good."
The brothers' transfers were within the rules because they moved with their father to Lynwood, Knight Athletic Director Rick Smith said. Last year, one of the brothers' older sisters, Kameca, a basketball standout, transferred from Poly to Lynwood as a senior. The Southern Section granted her a hardship waiver because her parents had split up, and she went to live with her mother in Lynwood, Smith said.
The couple have since reconciled and live together in Lynwood.
The Simmons' break with Poly, among the Southland's most successful football programs, appears permanent. The two youngest boys, eighth-grader Maurice, 13, and seventh-grader Marcus, 12, are both headed to Lynwood, Melvin Sr. said.
For Marlin and the twins, it has been a smooth transition. They were already familiar with several of the Lynwood coaches, including Jenkins and Holloway, because they were assistants at Dominguez when Melvin and Marvin attended the school. Marvin went to Dominguez for three years before transferring to Poly.
Explaining the high rate of transfers in his family, Melvin Sr. said, "I'm trying to do the best for our children."
While some may question the father's methods, few can argue with the results. "Pops," as his friends call him, has managed to steer his children toward productive lives and care for them while being physically disabled since a construction accident in 1988.
"He's the rock," Holloway said of Melvin Sr. "I wish I could be like him. He puts his family above everything. Anything his kids did, he was always right there."
Marlin knows that for a fact. You'd think in a house with seven rough-and-tumble boys, there'd be a lot of fighting. Not so, Marlin said.
"Any time there was too much noise," he said, "we knew Pops was coming."
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Strength in Numbers
A look at the 11 children of Melvin and Kathleen Simmons:
* Marquita, 26, is a teacher. She suffered from asthma and did not participate in athletics at Compton Centennial, earning an academic scholarship to Cal State Stanislaus, her father said.
* Melvin, 22, is a senior linebacker at USC, where he has been a two-year starter after transferring from Washington State. He was a three-year starter for Compton Dominguez and helped the Dons win the Southern Section Division II title as a sophomore in 1996.
* Katina, 21, is taking a year off from college after running track for Long Beach City College, Long Beach Poly and Dominguez. She competed in the sprints.
* Marvin, 20, is a sophomore linebacker at Kansas State. He signed with USC after an All-American senior season at Long Beach Poly, but did not enroll after his test scores were challenged. He played last season at Compton College after sitting out a year.
* Kolena, 19, is a sophomore on the women's basketball team at L.A. Southwest College. She attended Long Beach Poly and Dominguez, competing in basketball, softball and soccer. "She's probably the most athletic of all my children," Melvin Sr. said.
* Kameca, 18, is a freshman on the women's basketball team at Nevada Las Vegas. She transferred to Lynwood from Long Beach Poly as a senior last year and helped the Knights win the state Division I title.
* Marlin, 17, is a senior linebacker and running back at Lynwood. He transferred last summer from Long Beach Poly, where he had been a two-year starter at linebacker and helped the Jackrabbits win the Division I title in 2001.
* Twins Marcello and Marcel, 15, are juniors on the Lynwood football team. Marcello plays linebacker and tight end. Marcel is a reserve linebacker/safety. Both transferred from Long Beach Poly last summer.
* Maurice, 13, and Marcus, 12, attend Lynwood Middle School, where they compete in football and track and where their mother is a teacher. Both will attend Lynwood High, their father said.
-- Rob Fernas
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.