It didn’t take long for Blake Sims and Tai-ler (T.J.) Jones to impress the Gainesville High faithful.
On the first play of the Red Elephants’ (10-0) season opener against Chestatee, Sims tossed a quick screen pass to Jones, who broke three tackles and raced down the field for a 41-yard gain.
“Before the game we talked and said we’re here and it’s time to put on a show, and that’s what we did,” said Sims, who threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns in his first game with Gainesville.
Sims and Jones didn’t slow down after that.
In 10 games this season (all Gainesville wins), Sims has thrown for 1,651 yards and 15 touchdowns, augmented by 764 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Jones, on the other hand is the Red Elephants’ leading receiver with 52 catches for 648 yards and seven scores.
“They’ve been a great addition,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “We got a quarterback, we got a wide receiver, they seem to work well together and they seem to believe in each other.”
It seems that way because they do.
Both players are new to Gainesville High and its football program, and have spent countless hours watching game film in the morning and working on routes after practice and on the weekends, including on Sundays when the team meets for a routine light workout.
“Watching all the extra film has helped out a lot,” said Jones, who transferred from Roswell High after his father was forced to transfer for work. “Throwing together after practice has really helped our timing and our relationship as a quarterback and wide receiver.”
Despite being remarkable athletes — they both run a sub-4.6 second 40-yard dash — the two needed that extra practice in order to learn the complex spread offense that Gainesville runs. So they woke up early each morning to get to school to study the playbook.
“It’s just like playing in the backyard,” Sims said of the system.
“Once you get a couple reps in, it just comes naturally,” Jones added.
It certainly appeared that way. Along with a stout defense, the duo led the Red Elephants to a 4-0 start that culminated with a win over rival North Hall.
“Everybody thought they’d be difference makers,” Miller said. “But it’s incredible how quickly they got on the same page.”
Sims and Jones weren’t as surprised as their head coach.
“When you have two good athletes on the field, they are going to combine real good,” Sims said. “Even when we’re not on the field we’re like brothers.”
So much so that their personal relationships are affected by their friendship.
“Our girlfriends have to get along,” Sims said. “We had to make sure of that because we ain’t gonna let no girl come between us. We believe friends last longer than girls.”
And they hope they last as teammates for even longer.
Both have been inundated with football scholarships from Division I schools. Sims holds offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech, while Jones has offers from those schools plus West Virginia, N.C. State, South Carolina and Kentucky. Both are hoping they can add Florida to their list.
“It’d be great to play with him after high school,” Jones said of the idea of continuing his playing career alongside Sims.
“It’d be a blessing,” Sims interjected. “I know for a quarterback, it’s hard to get the same communication that we have just meeting new wide receivers.
“He already knows where I’ll be when I’m scrambling and I know where he’ll be,” he added. “It’ll make the transition easy for both of us.”
But right now they aren’t worried about college. Like the rest of their teammates, Sims and Jones are focused on Oconee County, the team they play tonight to open the Class AAA state playoffs.
“It’s a new season,” Jones said. “If you lose one then you’re done. Hopefully it’ll be five more weeks of football.”
Despite any pressure that comes with playing their first playoff game for Gainesville, Miller knows that his two offensive stars will be ready.
“They’re players and they’ll show up to play,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll show up with their ‘A’ game.”