After one semester at the University of Alabama, Blake Sims has grown as a football player, but more importantly, he’s grown as a man.
But his ride to becoming a member of the Crimson Tide wasn’t easy.
Following his senior year at Gainesville High, a year in which he led the Red Elephants to a berth in the Class AAA state finals, Sims spent 12 hours a day in a classroom with Tonya Aiken trying to recover credits so he would be approved by the NCAA clearing house and be able attend Alabama.
“I’m blessed to have a teacher to sit down and be there for me,” Sims said.
Once he achieved the needed credits, Sims enrolled in a school in East Mississippi, at the behest of Alabama coach Nick Saban, to earn college credits. In August, Sims was cleared to enroll at Alabama and join the football team, something many people doubted would ever happen.
“It was a big relief,” Sims said of learning he was eligible. “I was happy everything I did wasn’t a waste. I had a lot of doubters, but I had faith and did what I had to do.”
A star in high school, Sims found out quickly that his role at Alabama would be different than any he’s ever had on the football field. With a stacked roster filled with five-star athletes and potential NFL draft picks, Sims redshirted this year and his biggest role came as a member of the scout team.
“It was a big difference,” he said of not playing in games. “Being redshirted was the best thing to do. It allowed me to focus on my grades and get bigger and faster.”
It also allowed him to focus on the greater things in life, specifically his 1-year-old daughter Kyla.
“I hate that I’m not around 24-7,” said Sims, who came back to Gainesville several times to see Kyla and the rest of his family. “I love her with all my heart. When I’m out on the field, I’m not only doing it for me, but I’m doing it for my family.”
When Sims has been on the field, he’s played several different positions.
A quarterback all through high school, Sims played safety during the first practice and then alternated between quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
“We only have three quarterbacks on scholarship,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told Don Kausler Jr. of al.com in August. “Blake can play quarterback. Blake’s one of those guys who’s very open to playing something other than quarterback, since he wasn’t here in the summer and he didn’t really have the opportunity to learn and grow as a quarterback.
“But as a guy who can play quarterback on scout team, as a guy who can run wildcat for the defense. ... He’s a guy who has natural running skills.”
Saban also said the coaching staff is trying to develop Sims as a “quasi-quarterback/running back” who could play wide receiver someday.
Sims doesn’t care where he plays, but he admits that not playing on Saturdays was a tough adjustment.
“At first I thought redshirting wasn’t the best,” he said. “But now, I think it’s the best thing I could have done.
“My role is to prepare the team for the opponent. I’m a team player and do what I have to do.”
Adjusting to that role and college itself was even more difficult because Sims was missing the one constant he’s always had, his father Sonny.
“He’s a big, big part of my life,” Sims said. “He was always there to pick me up when I was down.”
Although he didn’t travel with the team for the majority of the season, Sims will be on the sidelines Saturday when Alabama takes on Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. He won’t see the field, but that doesn’t mean the trip to Florida isn’t worth his while.
“I just want to be around and see how everything operates,” he said. “I felt like it was a great opportunity.”