A freshman quarterback has them buzzing at Tech

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims throws on Florida State last Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla. (Don Juan Moore/Character Lines)

Credit: Don Juan Moore

Credit: Don Juan Moore

The freshman quarterback’s eye-opening debut at Florida State last Saturday began as more a cynical look at the cruel tease of youth.

Jeff Sims was doing so many good things as Georgia Tech cavorted up and down the field that day, outgaining the Seminoles by nearly 100 yards in the first half. But at the close of that half he had nothing to show for it, all those yards empty of points as two promising drives ended on interceptions deep in FSU territory. The Jackets trailed 10-0.

Sometimes a confident young’un such as Sims can puff up and bluster his way out of a predicament. Like his reaction when Tech’s offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, in the build-up to the game, had a conversation with his quarterback about the emotional traps that awaited. FSU, after all, was the school to which Sims originally committed, but then backed off after FSU changed coaches.

This was the kid’s reaction, as relayed by Patenaude: “He said, ‘Coach, you know what, this is what I do, I know I’m pretty good at it, I love doing this. So, let’s just go out and play.’”

To which the coach thought: “All right man, that’s great. You’re making my job a lot easier.”

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And sometimes even the hottest of hotshots need a little help, even more than is readily on hand.

So, at halftime, Sims pulled out his cellphone and texted both his father, Jeffrey Sims Sr., and his uncle, former NFL receiver, Mike Sims-Walker.

“What do you see that I need to fix?” he wrote them.

The youngest Sims recalled his uncle telling him to not force the ball on third downs, live to see another down. And just go back out and play hard. “He said I was doing good, keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.

Dad, the man Jeff routinely hits up mid-game for his evaluation, echoed much the same. Thus fortified, Sims went out and grew up a little bit more in that second half. He threw less, but more efficiently, completing 75% of his 12 attempts. He finished with 277 passing yards to 10 different receivers, another 64 yards overland in helping lead Tech to a minor 16-13 upset.

Then let the praise follow: Sims was named Manning Award Quarterback of the Week as well as ACC Rookie of the Week.

It’s amazing what is possible when you know you’re good but you also know you don’t have all the answers.

Should it turn out that Sims goes on from here to be the quarterback capable of breathing life into Geoff Collins' post-Paul-Johnson-option-football vision, there will be no shortage of co-authors to the story.

Three days after feat at FSU, Collins would look back and say of Sim’s performance: “The things that have been poured into him his entire life were on display there.”

Sims is the vessel of strong family influences, a rigorous football upbringing while playing the high school game at the highest level in Florida, and a personal sense of belief in himself and even a higher power than that.

Asked what it was his parents tried siphon into Jeff as he was coming along, Aisha Sims, his mother, answered, "Confidence. Confidence in prayer, prayer is everything. When you can’t figure it out on your own you run to God and pray about it and that’s what our strength lies in.

“And never give up. There is no such thing as I can’t.”

Reading off some of the keys items listed on his label of ingredients, Jeff settled on many of the same ones.

“Keeping my faith in God. Staying calm and not letting big games get to me. Staying grounded and not trying to do too much,” he said.

The result is hard to resist. “To not pull for a kid like Jeff Sims would make you a bad person,” flatly declares his high school coach at Sandalwood (Jacksonville), Adam Geis.

It struck his father as no surprise when Collins announced that after the big opening win Sims followed up by being the first player to show up for meetings Sunday. He’d also be the first to hit the practice field later in the day.

“When I was coaching him and the team he played on (in youth football) I didn’t understand how he’d be so excited about practice,” Jeffrey Sims Sr. said. “Everybody wants to play the game. But he always loved practice. Jeff just loved to be involved in football in any way he could. In high school he’d always look forward to going to practice. He always had that attitude.”

“My mom always taught me to never let anything get to my head, so after the game she said celebrate that night and the next day get back to work,” Sims said. “So, that’s what I did. Got back to work and pushed off everything that happened Saturday and started preparing for Central Florida (3:30 p.m. Saturday at home). Showing I can be a leader on this team and do everything I can to help this team win.”

Aside from football, the elder Sims had a couple other interests that also swept up the first of his two sons: A lawn maintenance business in the Jacksonville area. And his ministry, out of the non-denominational Excel Church in town.

So, when not practicing football, Jeff found himself on Saturdays first pushing a mower or, when a little older, steering the riding mower and flashing the edger or the blower.

Resent it? Hardly. He seems proud of his lawn care game. “I love it. That was a great bonding time for me and him. It’s actually kind of fun riding that lawn mower,” Jeff said.

And Sundays, along with the occasional Wednesday evening, were booked for worship. That helps explain the quarterback’s social media account sprinkled with biblical references as well as the verse from Philippians that is included in its bio.

The forces that led Sims, a highly regarded, dual-threat prospect out of Sandalwood, to Tech came at him from every direction.

Almost immediately after FSU fired head coach Willie Taggart in November, 2019, and Sims reconsidered his commitment, Geis was on the phone to Georgia Tech. He saw a natural fit between his offense and the one Collins was looking to install.

“I think it was a match made in heaven from the get-go,” his high school coach said. “Obviously it’s a great school but that aside he could step in and play in an offense that he had been playing for four years.”

By this time, his uncle had been long retired from his playing days and resettled in Atlanta. He came along on Jeff’s visit to Tech, and the presence of family nearby provided another reason to take this offer seriously.

(By the way, Mike Sims-Walker is fourth in career receptions and receiving yards at Central Florida, Tech’s opponent Saturday. But no trash talk from uncle to nephew. “I tell everybody family always wins,” Sims-Walker said. “He was my nephew before I got to UCF and he’ll be my nephew after he leaves Georgia Tech. I’ll root for him. I’ll root for both – I don’t know if that works.”)

Remembering Jeff as a freshman, Geis still laughs at how the tall, linguini-thin quarterback would howl after getting steamrolled by the older players. “He looked like a rail. He’d get hit in JV games as a freshman and come screaming that he was dying – I can’t breathe, I think I broke my ribs, my collarbone. I’d say, good God, man, you just got tackled,” he said.

But flash to Saturday, when Sims passed word to Patenaude to not shy away from calling some running plays for him. Anything to win this game, he said.

Beyond the toughness, Patenaude said, “The thing that has been tremendous with him is his willingness to study. He’s willingness to get in his playbook and into the (video) cut-ups.”

“That’s the kind of mentality you have to have to be elite,” Patenaude said. “You don’t know that when you recruit these guys. You watch their tape and get an idea of who they are from their family and their personalities and that type of thing. But until they’re under pressure and under the gun you don’t know how they’re going to perform.”

One game in, there is some indication on how Sims will react. Not every game day at Tech will be as charmed as his first. But what’s been poured into him has steeled him for whatever comes.

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