David Sims has led a life that breaks a stereotype that plagues only children- selfishness. When you learn more about his history, which I, also an only child, had the pleasure to do this week, you see a man who has put others before himself. Tech fans know of a B-back that is poised for a stellar season, but today I hope to shed a light on the man behind the mask.
Growing up in St. Matthew’s, S.C., a town that Sims describes as “small, quaint, and a people’s town. Everybody knows each other,” Sims pretended to be Barry Sanders in his backyard, but also imagined himself in the likeness of Vince Young and Peter Warrick on Saturdays, which is fitting for a player who has worn many hats throughout his playing career. He spent most of his time with his older cousin D’Angelo Willingham; the two would use their imagination to fill in the rest of the field while creating one-on-one games. “Growing up, I had the most active imagination possible. You had to,” stated Sims. “We played football, basketball, baseball, or whatever. It was just the two of us and we made it work.” Willingham did more than serve as his competition. He became a mentor. “He was the first person I looked up to growing up. I followed him everywhere. “
When Sims began his Yellow Jacket career, he continued to seek wisdom from older teammates. Two of the biggest stars from Tech’s 2009 ACC title run, Joshua Nesbitt and Morgan Burnett, were happy to share nuggets of knowledge from their journey at Georgia Tech. Sims recalls advice past down to expand his community outside of the football team. “Make sure we venture outside of just football and make friends with people in the business department,” Sims said. “Make sure we meet people who are engineers and develop relationships with other people.” The best piece of wisdom Sims received was “when in doubt, ask for help.”
The 225-pound redshirt senior has also done his best to fill a mentor role on the team by reaching out to underclassmen quarterbacks Vad Lee and Justin Thomas, along with fellow B-back Broderick Snoddy among others. Sims is quick to recognize that those three have heeded his and other upperclassmen’s advice. Now Sims has included his reach to Tech’s freshmen, “I tell them if they need something, just let me know.” The Palmetto State native returned to his roots at Calhoun County High School to share his experiences with those who hope to follow his playing career.
“Especially after my first and second year, we’d come back and let them know the mistakes we made and what we did to correct them. I think that’s what helped them keep their mind focused and realize they needed to get their school work done to go to college.” That “we” that Sims is referring to is a small, yet recognizable, group of successful Calhoun County alumni.
“We were small but we were talented. Alshon Jeffrey, who plays for the Bears. Shamier [Jeffery] is at South Carolina. We had a guy named Donte Rumph who went to Kentucky. Phillip Merling was with the Dolphins for awhile.”
Sims had two scores for Georgia Tech in its win over Elon
At one time, Sims was that young player that had dreams of playing college football. His hope was to one day don the garnet and gold and become a Florida State Seminole. Eventually Sims was able to trade in his field of imaginary players once he was able to sport the helmet and pads for the first time at age 11. Sims, who committed to Georgia Tech as a quarterback, didn’t play the position until a friend approached him on the sidelines.
“I was a receiver and cornerback. It wasn’t until I got to high school on JV and one of my best friends asked me to switch to quarterback because the other quarterback wasn’t cutting it. He knew I could throw and was pretty smart. I made the switch and stayed there until I got to college.”
So what did his coach think?
“He actually thought it was a good idea too because he knew me and knew that I was pretty smart in picking up the offense.”
Not long after, the offers starting rolling in for the Calhoun County star. He rewrote the school record books for total offense in a season (3,900), passing touchdowns (37), career passing yards (5,800) and career rushing yards (2,800). In what he calls his favorite high school memory, Sims was named ESPN RISE National Player of the Week on November 12, 2008, when he rolled up over 250 yards on the ground. He rushed for three, passed for four more, and had a pick six for a total of eight touchdowns.
One offer was missing from his stack. His beloved Seminoles were not quick to extend a scholarship, so his childhood loyalty to FSU diminished. Other schools called and wanted to see Sims leave his position as signal-caller.
“Kansas wanted me to play receiver and slot. NC State and Kentucky wanted me to play running back, and everybody else wanted me to play defensive back.”
There was one school that liked the promise of David O’Brian Sims, Jr, at quarterback.
“Tech was the only one. That’s what intrigued me the most.”
Despite his pleas to see time on the field, Sims redshirted in 2009. “As a freshman, you want to play. I went up to [Coach Johnson] and said I’ll do special teams, I’ll play safety, I’ll play anything. I just wanted to play.”
His first action came the following fall when he played in five games, including three rushes for 34 yards in the season opener against South Carolina State. Sims continued to learn the position in Tech’s offense throughout the 2010 year, until head coach Paul Johnson approached Sims about a switch to B-back as the Yellow Jackets were preparing to take on Air Force in the Independence Bowl. Sims stated that it caught him off-guard.
”I thought I was progressing as a quarterback. I was mentally preparing myself to push Tevin [Washington] and start in the spring. I had the best set of practices at quarterback since I had been here.”
Here’s another case where the unselfishness of Sims shines. He sat down over the summer and began to talk things out. After a series of introspections, Sims accepted his new role and began to work toward a starting job. With the shift to B-back, there were good and bad days.
“The easiest thing was knowing where to go. The hardest thing was blocking. I had not had to block since I was in middle school.” He calls the most challenging task having to block a defensive end with no help.
Remembering the advice passed onto him to ask for help when needed, he turned to the Goon Squad, the nickname bestowed upon Tech’s offensive lineman. “They have to do it every play so why not watch people who do it every play. I think that’s what really helped me.” Like any good offensive lineman, he focused on the fundamentals of the task. “Even if I didn’t get my block trying to make sure my fundamentals were right. Make sure my feet were moving and my hands were active.”
While the relationship wasn’t on its best terms when Johnson approached Sims about a position change, the redshirt senior says things are going well with his coach. “He’s put us in a position to be successful and he wants the best for you and the most out of you.”
Sims appears poised for a big senior year ahead. Only three active players have rushed for more yards than Tech’s number 20. Paul Johnson raved about the camp that Sims had this fall for the Jackets. Sims credits a strong body, “for the most part I was pretty much healthy. Even in the spring I made sure I did my job and that I got out of spring camp healthy so I would have the whole summer to prepare my body for the upcoming season. So far I’ve been pretty much 100% healthy and I’m just going 100 miles per hour.” It was evident last year the difference between a healthy David Sims and one that’s not. He started seven of the final nine games of the 2012 season. His five biggest rushing outputs came in final five games of the year against Tech’s stiffest competition.
On his last go-around on the Flats, Sims wants to be remembered by Georgia Tech fans as one who wants the spotlight on his team, not his own stats.
“A team player. A guy who came in as quarterback and most people don’t even realize I played special teams my second year. I was on kickoff return all the way up until when [Joshua] Nesbitt got hurt that Virginia Tech game. I’m somebody who is always willing to do whatever it took for the team. Last year for the first six games of the year I couldn’t really run but I was in there trying to block and give [Zack] Laskey a breather… It’s tough doing it by yourself, especially when it’s your first time doing it. I just want to be remembered as a team player.”
Besides, it’s never been just about David Sims anyway. He’s always played on a field of teammates, imaginary or real.
Photo and high school records courtesy of Georgia Tech Sports Information.