Five days after the state championship game, Gainesville High senior Blake Sims still felt sick.
Described by his coach as “a player that hates losing more than anyone,” Sims couldn’t shake the feeling of failing. Failing to do something no player at Gainesville has done before: win a state championship in football.
“Every day,” Sims said when asked how much he thinks about his team’s 13-12 loss to Peach County in the Class AAA state championship. “Everyday I wake up, everyday I see a football field... Man ... 2 yards away from getting a ring on my finger.”
A disappointing look on his face arises as his mind drifts back to that loss.
“Words can’t explain how deep that cut me,” he said. “I really wanted to win that so much.”
While Sims wasn’t able to finish the season with a state championship, it’s hard to argue how much the dynamic quarterback meant to the Red Elephants.
For the season, the 6-foot, 200-pound Alabama commit threw for 2,280 yards and 30 touchdowns, rushed for 872 yards and 13 touchdowns, caught four passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, and added three touchdowns on special teams.
Add that all up and Sims combined for 3,736 all-purpose yards and 49 touchdowns, which makes him The Times' Football Player of the Year.
“That’s amazing that anyone can score that many touchdowns or have their hand in that many touchdowns in a season,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said.
That wouldn’t have been possible if Miller and the rest of the coaching staff didn’t do everything in their power to get the ball in Sims’ hands.
Through the first two games of the season, Sims was used in his normal role, as a dual-threat quarterback that can burn you with his legs or his arm.
In the third game of the year against White County, the Red Elephants unveiled their version of the Wildcat offense, sending Sims out as a wide receiver, resulting in two long catch-and-run touchdowns.
“I just tried to get the whole team into it,” Sims said of his role. “And when people would come to a game, I wanted to make it like a show so they would want to keep coming and see what Gainesville had.”
Several games later he began returning punts and kickoffs, which resulted in three touchdowns, including one to start the second half of Gainesville’s semifinal win over Flowery Branch.
“He just brought so much to the table with his athleticism,” Miller said. “He was unbelievable in everything he did.”
Including putting the team on his back to win close playoff games.
With the game tied in the semifinals against Flowery Branch, Sims led his team on a 63-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown to Tyson Smith that won the game and sent Gainesville to the state title game.
“I’ll never forget winning that game to get to the Dome,” Sims said.
He’ll also never forget the game in the Dome, when his team was down by seven points with 50 seconds left to go.
After two completions to Tai-ler Jones that put Gainesville in Peach County territory, Sims was sacked and it appeared that time had run out on the Red Elephants.
But the senior and his teammates quickly got back to the line of scrimmage, and with the clock reading 0:05, he snapped the ball and connected with Michael Lorentz for a 20-yard touchdown.
“I was just thinking, ‘gotta get in the end zone, gotta get in the end zone,’” Sims said. “I knew in my mind that we were going to score because we’re all playmakers.”
Unfortunately, that was the last successful play of the season, and the dream of a state title ended with a failed two-point conversion.
“There’s a lot of things we could have done to score, we just picked the wrong one,” Sims said of the final play. “I don’t think it’s the coach’s fault, it’s our fault as a team because they call the plays and we didn’t execute.”
A look of anger and disappointment still remains when he talks about the final game of his high school career, but eventually he knows that feeling will go away and 30 years from now his memories will be of “the brothers that he played with.”
“That’s the best team that I played with all through high school,” Sims said. “I had a lot of fun this year with the players and coaches. Everything was perfect.”
Well, almost perfect. But even failing to win a state title won’t diminish what Sims meant to Gainesville football.
“He’s got to be in the top 10 athletes to ever play here,” Miller said. “I didn’t see Billy Lothridge and Billy Martin play, but he’s got to be one of the top 10.”
Sims took those words as a compliment to his hard work and dedication to the game, but that’s not how he wants to be remembered.
“I want to be remembered as a great kid, a great leader, and someone that put his heart on the field at all times,” Sims said.