Jeff Sims didn’t often have to make complex reads or make quick decisions under pressure when he was in high school. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds as a senior, he usually was more athletic than everyone else on the field and could lean on that ability to do what he wanted.
In three years as the starter at Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Sims racked up over 5,000 passing yards, 1,200 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns.
Now Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback as a freshman, Sims has had to learn what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the ACC. As with any freshman starter, particularly at quarterback, it’s been an up-and-down year. But everyone at Tech says the same things about Sims: He’s going to be elite, and he’s well on his way to getting there.
“Jeff came from a program where he was just reading one or two guys and taking off and running and being a great athlete,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dave Patenaude said Tuesday. “(He) had a good career there, but when he got here, his overall understanding of football and just his general background was that of a freshman. Every week, you can see him getting better and better.”
Sims' career at Tech began on a high note as he orchestrated a come-from-behind win over Florida State and was named the ACC’s rookie of the week for his efforts. In that game, Sims passed for 277 yards and rushed for another 64 as he took Tech from trailing 10-0 at halftime to winning 16-13. But as the weeks went on, Sims began to struggle, which isn’t unusual for a freshman — particularly considering Tech’s gauntlet of a mid-season schedule.
After playing Clemson and Notre Dame in a three-week span, Tech’s remaining four games are somewhat less daunting. Outside of a game at Miami on Nov. 21, none of the Yellow Jackets' remaining opponents currently are ranked higher than seventh in the ACC. Sims has a chance to demonstrate his growth and build momentum down the stretch, which can only help his development.
And as frequently as Tech’s coaches praise Sims' football ability, they praise his character and off-field traits nearly as often. The academic rigor of Georgia Tech can make the adjustment more challenging for some freshmen, but by all accounts, Sims adapting well in every aspect.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Jeff Sims as a young man, as a person in this program developing the leadership traits in real time as a true freshman,” coach Geoff Collins said. “Just really, really proud of him and the way the team has galvanized around him, for him to have some success and for the team to have some success.”
Heading into the final four games of the season, Collins and his staff are hoping that the growth they’ve seen from Sims in practice will transfer to games. With an off-week last week, Sims had a chance to focus heavily on himself. Patenaude is seeing the results of that work already.
“If he misses a throw in practice now, he realizes why it happened,” Patenaude said. “We had one today where he missed a guy on a check-down, but he was off-balance, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve gotta get my feet back underneath me.’ He’s starting to talk like a quarterback, and when you get those guys to really understand, technically, how to throw the ball, how to be on a good platform, that’s where it starts.
“... In the long run, we’re gonna be all really excited to watch this dude play quarterback because he can be elite.”