From Gandhi to Jeter, Georgia Tech’s single-digit jersey wearers explain choices

The first guess about why Georgia Tech cornerback Myles Sims would want to wear the No. 0 jersey is that it might be a statement of bravado. As in, No. 0 represents the number of catches that the receiver he’s defending will have.

But the real reason is miles – or Myles – deeper and more reflective. It rests, contemplatively, at the other end of the spectrum from prideful posturing. Sims’ inspiration is Mahatma Gandhi.

“There’s a famous quote by Gandhi about how you’ve got to reach the point of zero first before you can do anything else,” Sims said. “I feel like I represent that well.”

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Gandhi was quoted to have said, “I strive to make myself zero,” meaning that he sought to reach a state of self-denial in which his thoughts, words and actions sprung wholly from a desire to serve others. It is, perhaps, an expression of what it means to be an ideal teammate.

“I must reduce myself to zero,” Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, first published in 1927. “So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him.”

Sims’ motivation to adorn himself in a prized single-digit jersey – specifically the No. 0 jersey – stands out among his teammates who swapped their old numbers for a single number prior to the season, which begins next Monday against No. 4 Clemson.

Sims has demonstrated Gandhi’s others-focused principles in other ways, notably in his charity work for Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army. Sims, who earned his business administration degree in May and is expected to start for the Yellow Jackets, also took part in a service trip with 15 other Tech athletes to Puerto Rico to assist in a construction project to rebuild the island after the devastating hurricanes in 2017. For that, he was recognized as a nominee for the AFCA Good Works Team and also placed on the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, which recognizes community service among college football players.

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Sims choosing No. 0 as a representation of his altruistic posture does raise the question, though, of how he should respond if another teammate wants to trade numbers. Perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a decision. A number, Sims said, “is just a number.”

Other players’ explanations for their jersey changes don’t draw from the philosophies of world-changing political leaders but are meaningful in their own way.

In his final year with the team, linebacker Charlie Thomas switched from No. 25 to No. 1, which became available with safety Juanyeh Thomas’ graduation. Thomas called it nothing less than “a dream come true.” He had wanted to make the switch in his senior year at Thomasville High but felt that he had put too much time in his No. 2 jersey to make the change. To him, the privilege of the No. 1 jersey brings responsibility.

“Every time I come in the locker room and see that No. 1 in my locker and put that jersey on, I know one thing that’s for sure – I can’t slack. I’ve got to go every day,” Thomas said. “That definitely motivates me and makes me go hard, makes me think about stuff differently. It feels good.”

Tight end Dylan Leonard had worn No. 80 but put in a successful bid for No. 2, which was worn on offense last year by receiver Kyric McGowan. (NCAA rules permit two players on a team to wear the same number provided they aren’t on the field at the same time.) Leonard’s reasons were manifold.

“I felt like I needed to shed some skin, the team needed to shed some skin,” Leonard said. “I figured it was just kind of the year that me, along with the team, needed to shed some skin and start anew.”

Besides serving as a metaphor for metamorphosis, Leonard had less philosophical purposes in acquiring the No. 2. At Milton High, he said, he wore No. 2 as a freshman and senior and was injury-free in both of those seasons. When he was not swathed in it as a sophomore and junior, injuries kept him from playing. And, lastly, Leonard used to wear it when he played baseball in homage to Baseball Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, perhaps the most recognized No. 2.

Cornerback Kenyatta Watson had No. 12 but relocated to No. 3, which was opened up with the graduation of cornerback Tre Swilling. Watson is honoring a friend with his jersey choice. Watson wore No. 2 at Texas before transferring to Tech and a friend had No. 1, Watson said. The friend is no longer playing, Watson said, so by wearing No. 3 – 1 plus 2 – he represents both.

Said Watson, “He was just like, ‘Man, it’s going to be nice seeing you out on the field wearing a number for the both of us.’”

Safety Derrik Allen had previously worn No. 18 but made the move to No. 4 after linebacker Quez Jackson vacated it upon the completion of his career. In a letter to coach Geoff Collins – players requesting a single-digit jersey must write a letter to Collins making their case – Allen said he wanted the leadership responsibility that comes with a single-digit jersey.

“I felt like it was a good transition for a new number, being a new person,” Allen said. “I spoke about it with my dad, and he agreed that he likes 4. I would have preferred 7 just because that’s a family number (alas, No. 7 is worn on defense by cornerback Zamari Walton), but I’m ready for 4 just because it’s a new environment, a new change-up.”

Defensive tackle Makius Scott was selected to wear No. 8 in honor of the late Demaryius Thomas, the Tech great who died in December at the age of 33. From this season forward, in Thomas’ memory, Jackets players who best exemplify Thomas’ spirit will wear the jersey. Wide receiver Nate McCollum will also wear it, as he did last year.

“It’s an honor,” said Scott, who previously wore No. 90. “Just seeing how much that number means to the GT community, the GT family, it’s just an honor, and I’m blessed to wear it.”