He arrived with a killer hairdo, tons of potential and no known role.
Now, after a freshman season in which he led the Jayhawks in rushing yards (742) and touchdowns (9), James Sims has positioned himself as the top running back on the Kansas University football roster.
“He is our best guy at this point in time,” KU coach Turner Gill said at Tuesday’s annual media day. “He has a good approach every day, coming to work, getting better, talking to coach (Reggie) Mitchell, talking to myself about the things he can do to continue to be the best running back, not only here at the University of Kansas but hopefully in the Big 12 Conference.”
For a guy whose humility and work ethic surpass his talent, that’s quite a transformation in just 12 months.
Despite his new title of “The Man” instead of “The Freshman,” teammates say Sims, 6-foot, 206 pounds from Irving, Texas, has changed little.
This offseason, in addition to adding muscle, Sims worked most on his short bursts so he could hit the holes even faster than he already did. He also was a regular at summer workouts and did nothing to hurt his status as the team’s top back with a solid spring.
Sims isn’t the kind of player who wants anything handed to him. Sure, his goal coming out of high school was to play, and ultimately start, for the Jayhawks. But now that he’s achieved that — even if it came faster than anyone could have imagined — he’s not about to abandon what got him there.
“It does give me confidence,” said Sims of being KU’s top back. “But it also just makes me work harder because coach Gill also made it clear that no spot is just given to you. You have to continue to earn it and work hard for it, and I’m just gonna do that and push myself to get better.”
Same ol’ Sims. Just ask him.
Have you changed at all heading into this season?
“No, sir,” he said. “I’m the same.”
Has your confidence increased because of what you were able to do last season?
“Yes, sir,” he whispered.
Has your current status as the No. 1 back on this team brought added pressure?
“It has, but I’m just gonna continue to read my keys and do my blocks, and I should be fine,” he said.
Humble. Polite. Appreciative. And full of talent. In short, he’s exactly the kind of player Gill wants representing this team.
Asked what fell into place during 2010 that allowed him to become one of the top freshman running backs in the Big 12, the soft-spoken Sims spoke honestly.
“I don’t really know how to answer that,” he said. “I got the offense down real well and read my holes real well and just did a lot of things right. My goal was to come in and play right away, and it happened. It’s a blessing, and I’m just gonna continue to build on it and work hard to get better.”
With a crop of young, talented running backs pushing him for playing time, Sims has little choice. Still, his teammates say it’s his maturity that makes him a likely candidate to hang on to a key role in the KU backfield for the foreseeable future.
“He’s always kind of had the attitude that he wants to be the guy,” KU quarterback Jordan Webb said. “You can feel it from him, and I think that’s huge for a running back. He’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger, and he knows what it takes to be a running back in the Big 12. I think he’s gonna have a great year.”
Added junior Toben Opurum, who, like Sims, led the Jayhawks in rushing as a true freshman, in 2009: “James has definitely matured as a player since he’s been here. One advantage he had over me was that he didn’t get hurt so he had a full offseason to work with coach Mitchell, who’s done a good job with him, and a full summer of workouts. I think he’ll be ready to lead the team in the fall. He’s not a cocky person, but he is very confident. And our team and our coaches are confident in him. They saw what he could do as a freshman, and he’s only gonna get better.”