LAWRENCE — James Sims turned to his offensive linemen, and prepared to ask for a simple favor. It was last Saturday afternoon, just a few minutes into the fourth quarter, and Sims’ Jayhawks trailed Oklahoma State 20-7.
KU coach Charlie Weis kept feeding Sims the ball — he would finish with 27 carries — and the junior running back kept responding by throwing his 200-pound frame into defenders. Now the Jayhawks were back in the huddle, and Sims was ready to speak up.
“I just told the offensive line, just go up and win the line of scrimmage,” Sims said. “I just need a little crease, that’s all I need. That’s what I told ’em.”
Let’s pause for a moment to consider why this story might be noteworthy. For one, Sims is a quiet kid by nature — a native of Irving, Texas, who generally lets his game do the talking. And then there’s the fact that success wasn’t guaranteed for Sims this season. Not after a momentary lapse in judgment caused him to miss the Jayhawks first three games this season.
Last spring, Sims was cited in Lawrence for operating a vehicle under the influence near KU’s campus. The offense came just as Sims was trying to make an impression during Weis’ first spring camp. And Weis responded by doling out a three-game suspension.
But back to last Saturday, where Sims followed up his huddle request with a 30-yard touchdown run that culminated with a spur-of-the-moment flex in the end zone.
“He was running like a beast,” KU safety Bradley McDougald said.
It would be natural to assume that Sims’ time on the sideline provided a little extra motivation. But Sims doesn’t want to totally buy it.
“That was gonna be my mentality from the start,” Sims said, “whether I was playing in the first couple games or not. I was still gonna give it my all.”
As the Jayhawks prepare to travel to play No. 10 Oklahoma on Saturday, Sims has rushed for 344 yards in three games since his return. He finished with 138 yards against Oklahoma State.
But for Sims, the real football epiphany came after he studied tapes of himself during his freshman and sophomore years. He led the Jayhawks in rushing both seasons, piling up more than 700 yards each year, but he saw things he didn’t like.
“Chubby guy getting used to the offense,” Sims said.
Sims said he dedicated himself to reworking his body in the offseason. He wanted to shed some pounds, work on his quickness, and improve his vision. Even when he was on the sideline, Weis praised Sims as the Jayhawks’ most complete running back.
“I can’t see any reason why he wouldn’t play on Sunday,” Weis said of Sims’ NFL potential. “I can’t see one reason why he wouldn’t play on Sunday. Tell me what his weakness is.”
Last week, Sims outgained Oklahoma State standout Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher. This week, he’ll be mostly overshadowed by Oklahoma junior Damien Williams, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
It comes with the territory, Sims says. The Jayhawks aren’t winning, so few people pay attention. And all he can do is keep working.
“Most people overlook us, just because we aren’t really doing to well, you know?” Sims said. “And I really take that in. And it’s like motivation for me to keep grindin’ and work hard.”