Oct. 15, 2005
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It was not supposed to happen this way for Rob Sims. Not exactly, anyway.
As he hoped, and as the Ohio State coaching staff predicted, this Buckeye senior offensive lineman is one of the top players at his position in the Big Ten and in the nation. What is peculiar, though, is that this season he is lining up at his position for just the first time.
Granted, Ohio State offensive linemen are expected to be versatile and many are able to line up at several of the five spots along the Buckeyes’ front wall. Nevertheless, they all have their specialties and the position at which they feel most comfortable. Coming out of Nordonia High School in northeast Ohio, Sims knew that position for him was guard. Always was, always would be, he thought.
Turns out it would not be until his senior season of 2005, when he was elected a co-captain, that Sims would line up for the Scarlet and Gray at that spot.
It is not that Sims slipped down the depth chart at guard and was not able to crack the starting lineup at that spot prior to this season. It just so happened he spent the last three years as Ohio State’s starting left tackle.
When Sims first got to Ohio State for preseason camp in 2002, the Buckeye offensive line included veterans such as Alex Stepanovich at center, Adrien Clark and Bryce Bishop at the guard spots and Shane Olivea and Ivan Douglas at right and left tackle, respectively. Add to that group capable backups Mike Stafford, Scott Kuhnhein and classmate Nick Mangold, and one can see why Sims could not have guessed by the end of the season he would be Ohio State’s starting left tackle in the national championship game against Miami.
“At first, I was kind of just an extra guy,” Sims, noting all the talented players in front of him, said, “but by the end of preseason camp I was the backup at left tackle to Ivan.”
Which is where he would stay through the early part of his freshman season, but as injuries often tend to require, a reshuffling of the deck was about to happen. An injury to Olivea caused Douglas to move to the right tackle spot, thrusting Sims into the starting lineup at left tackle. When Olivea returned and Douglas moved back to left tackle, but he, too, would soon go down with an injury, and Sims was back in at left tackle.
Though no one knew it at the time, the injury to Douglas would prove to be one he would never come back from. A simple ankle injury was the precursor to what would develop into a blood clot in Douglas’ leg and end his Buckeye career. Before that was discovered, however, Sims had a job to do – help the Buckeyes win the national title.
“It was a crazy time and everything was happening so fast, but I knew I could do it,” Sims said. “I knew I could play. Everything that first season was so new and was so fast, there wasn’t much going on in my mind other than learning all the plays. It was an exciting year. That is for sure.”
Not stressed about relinquishing the position that defined him, however, Sims was a quick learner. He had to be going up against standout OSU defensive linemen Kenny Peterson, Darrion Scott, Will Smith and Tim Anderson every day in practice.
“Those guys beat up on me a lot in practice,” Sims said. “But I learned a lot and couldn’t have been successful without them.”
Sims had just turned 19 years old when he and the Buckeyes walked onto the field in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., to face Miami in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl national championship game. With Douglas looking on from the sideline, Sims and the OSU offense helped the Buckeyes bring home the national title.
“Even when we were fighting for a position, Ivan was my biggest fan,” Sims said. “A lot of the success I had that early was because of Ivan. He would teach me and he was never mad because I was playing. In fact he said that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When someone comes along who is better, they should play, and that was exactly what my dad said. There is always someone better than you. There’s nothing wrong with it. That’s just the way life is.”
So the versatile Sims, who stands 6-foot-2-inches tall, became a mainstay at left tackle, even though his size was suited more for guard, the position for which he was more noted. That was just fine with Sims, though, for he has always played with the idea that whatever the team needs to be successful, if he can bring it, he will.
“Even with this team right now, who would have thought that Doug Datish would be playing left tackle and I would be at left guard?” Sims said. “But it’s better this way. I came in as a guard but played left tackle because that’s what the team needed. Most tackles that go the National Football League are 6-7. I don’t fit that mold, but I fit what this team needed, and that’s all that mattered.”
All the while when he was playing tackle, the thought of playing guard did not totally leave his mind, nor that of Jim Bollman, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
“Coach Bollman always wanted to see me at guard, but his hands were tied with injuries and depth,” Sims said. “We would still talk about it, though, and this year I went out in the spring and played well at guard and it finally happened.”
With that, he is back at the spot where he is sure to hear his name called at the 2006 NFL Draft in April. Making a transition to play at the next level will be nothing new for the Sims family. His father, Mickey, played football at South Carolina State and then for three seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Mickey and his wife Brenda, a professor at Cuyahoga Community College, together put their son on the path to success.
From his father, a law enforcement officer and security guard, Sims said he learned the kind of work ethic that would transform him into one of the few four-year starters in Ohio State football history.
“It seemed my dad always had two or three jobs,” Sims said. “Seeing him work so hard really helped me out. He always told me, if my time comes, take it head on and give it all I have.”
Mickey remembers well a very good illustration of that piece of advice.
“Robbie’s very first football practice in middle school, I drove him to the field, introduced him to the coaches and left,” Mickey said. “I came back just as practice was ending and noticed some kids were running across the field to the locker room, while Robbie and some others were walking around the outside, and I wondered, `What’s the deal?'”
When Sims got into the car and his father asked him, he explained that his coach said no one should walk on a football field, so when practice was over, the players could either run off the field, or, if they would rather walk, to walk around the outside of the field.
“So I told Robbie, `Just to let you know, when they give you that option, you run,'” Mickey said. “‘You know they give you that choice just to see who is going to work harder and who they can rely on. My advice is to push yourself to the furthest and don’t ever take the easy way out.'”
That would be the philosophy Sims would take with him through his prep career, which included a berth on the All-Ohio squad as a tackle his senior year in 2001. When Ohio State coaches came calling, they knew he would best be suited to play guard for the Buckeyes, but they liked his overall versatility.
“I told Robbie `you have to learn to play all positions because it’s good to show versatility,'” Mickey said. “If you want to go to the next level, you have to be versatile. And his goal at Ohio State was to play no matter what position they put him at.”
When his senior season got underway and he was back at guard, Mickey knew it was not only what was best for Ohio State, but what was probably best for his son.
“He’s pulling for the guys playing the tackle positions and he knows they can succeed,” Mickey said. “When he came to Ohio State, they recruited him to play anywhere they could use him, but he feels he is cut better to be a guard. But like I always told him, the more positions you can play on the offensive line the better.”
Obviously Sims took his father’s advice to heart, and it did not stop on the football field. His parent’s stressed academics, too, and would not let him slide by without succeeding in the classroom.
“My freshman and sophomore year of high school, I didn’t do so well school-wise,” Sims said. “My parents then told me there are two pieces to the puzzle, and without an education you’re missing one of those pieces. So I made a commitment to myself that college was going to be in my future. It just so happened football took me there.”
His future in the NFL appears to be the furthest thing from his mind, which is just fine with his family.
“We don’t really talk about the next level,” Mickey said. “These boys need to be concentrating on what is going on at this particular time. I always told Robbie to take care of what’s happening right now. You have to think about being the best you can be where you are right now. If you put everything into what you are doing right now, the professional ranks will take care of themselves. You have to enjoy what you have now because it doesn’t happen very often.”
Not only did Sims hear that lesson from his father, he saw a perfect example of it in Douglas, his teammate and mentor. Luckily for Douglas, though, he was able to play football again and last year was on the roster of the Oakland Raiders.
“I know it was very frustrating for Ivan not to be able to finish out his career here,” Sims said. “But at least he got an opportunity to play gain. All I could do was just pray for him and hope for the best and he came through it.”
The opportunity to play was all Sims was looking for, too. Ask him, and he will tell you it does not make a bit of difference to him is he comes out of the huddle and lines up at guard or tackle. For at either position, when the Buckeyes have needed him most, he has delivered.
It is for reasons like that Sims is a captain and will continue to be someone his teammates can count on as the Buckeyes work towards a Big Ten championship in 2005.