Hard-Hitting Simunyu Shows Softer Side
BC senior Prince Simunyu poses in the studio where he did most of his photographic work in his final year at the college. (Times photo by Robbie Robertson)
Say you were asked to guess what a Brevard College three time all conference football linebacker was majoring in.
You might come up with something like exercise science, sports management, criminal justice, or, maybe, business.
The last thing on your guess list? Probably anything to do with the arts.
But that’s what makes this story more unique than most. Because art is exactly what BC senior Prince Simunyu majors in. In one form or another, his interest in things artistic has been a part of him for as long as he can remember, as far back as his childhood in Harare, the capital of the troubled Southern African nation of Zimbabwe.
If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Zimbabwe as Rhodesia, a British colony from the late 1880s that was named for the English-born businessman, mining magnate and politician Cecil Rhodes. He’s the Rhodes who founded the famed DeBeers diamond company that once controlled 90 percent of the planet’s sparklers, and whose estate still sponsors the coveted Rhodes Scholarships.
Rhodesia became known as Zimbabwe when independence from Britain was finally and painfully gained in 1980.
“As a kid growing up, I didn’t really have any toys to play with,” Simunyu said. “But I liked to draw things. And, since I was crazy over soccer, my earliest memories involve me drawing soccer players. It was something I never seemed to get tired of.”
Simunyu, his parents and a younger sister made the difficult move to the U.S. when he was only eight. They moved to Lowell, Mass ., a tough, blue collar, former textile mill community a few miles North of Boston. The family became part of an established Zimbabwean community there. His father, who had worked in advertising in Africa, found work as a truck driver and the family began the daunting task of searching for its piece of the American dream.
“Of course, we had heard all about snow,” Prince said, flashing a wry smile. “But you can imagine the shock when we found ourselves in that cold climate. Hearing about snow and living in it were two different things. A few weeks into my first New England winter, I was about ready to head back to Africa.”
In 2005, the family left snow country and headed South to the Raleigh area, eventually settling in nearby Wake Forest. Prince’s dad continues to work as a trucker, with the sideline of delivering scarce goods to family members in Zimbabwe, where luxury items can be in short supply.
Prince had discovered football in Massachusetts, and wanted to continue to play, but the family arrived too late for him to play in his first year. Under North Carolina law, he had only two seasons of eligibility left, and ended up playing as a sophomore and a junior, but not in his senior year. He graduated in 2008.
As luck would have it, one of Simunyu’s Wakefield High School coaches announced that he was taking the special teams coaching job at Brevard College. Prince decided to take the plunge and head to Western North Carolina with him. He’s not sorry that he did.
“Like everybody, I’ve complained about a few things at BC,” he said. “But looking back, I know how lucky I’ve been to end up here and to have had the mentors and made the good friends that I have. I feel well prepared and am confident about my future.
“Football has meant a lot to me,” he said. “You can’t play the game without learning something about discipline. I wouldn’t be who I am, or have the professional plans that I have, without football and the coaches I’ve been blessed to play for.”
Simunyu’s BC football career has been impressive, and is well documented. He made the All-South Atlantic Conference team three times, a first team selection in both his junior and senior years. He led the conference in tackles in 2011 and is BC’s all-time leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage. He was also named a first team linebacker on the prestigious Don Hansen All-Regional team in 2011. And, along with BC safety Michael Gist and defensive end Christian Lumbu, was selected to play in the All-America Bowl in Minneapolis, Minn. in December, a game that showcases the top Division II and Division III football players in the country.
“Prince’s football accomplishments and his numbers speak for themselves,” BC Head Coach Paul Hamilton said. “He’s been a huge part of our program for the past three years, and we’re gonna miss him.”
“When this season ended, I thought I’d finally had it with football,” Simunyu said. “But, now that a little time has passed, I think I might like to try to play a season or two overseas. I’d really like to experience Europe, to get a look at the different cultures over there. My sister is an international relations major at Elon, and it looks like she’ll spend her junior year in France. It would be great to be there with her.”
Meanwhile, Prince has long since switched gears from the football field to the art studio. He first became interested in graphic design as a high school senior and has been through BC’s art program from top to bottom.
“There aren’t any short cuts,” he said. “It’s a pretty traditional program, and even though I’m mainly interested in photography, I’ve had to take most all of the courses.”
BC professor of art, photography and painting Bill Byers has been a special mentor for Prince.
“He is a personable, well-liked young man,” Byers said. “He uses photography to supply images for graphic design and is facile with Photoshop. He’s a quick study who’s chosen a challenging field, but I think he’s up to it. Like many young people, he’s still learning to develop a consistent approach to work and to the work ethic.”
Simunyu is as comfortable behind the camera as he is in front of it on the football field.
“My dream job would be to become an art director for a graphics studio,” Simunyu said. “I was lucky enough to get an internship at Color Graphics in Raleigh last summer. It was a great experience, but a little too 9-5 for me. I want to use photography and Photoshop to create my own art.
“Grad school, a Master of Fine Arts degree, is a good possibility. Then I want to work with clients in the entertainment, film, fashion and sports industries, and, maybe, one day down the road, open my own firm.”
Want to have a look at some of this athlete/artist’s interesting photo/digital prints? He and three fellow art majors, Rick Campana, Jacob Liske and Dylan Wood, will exhibit their pieces at BC’s Spiers Gallery beginning with an opening reception at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 13. The public is invited. Regular gallery hours are 8 a.m. - 3 p.m ., Monday - Friday.
Editor’s Note: Paul Morgan is a retired journalist and journalism professor.