Above photo of Jeffery Sims Jr. (center) by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON- If you had told Jeffery Sims Jr. as a sixth grader that he would be the starting center for a reigning national championship football program 11 years in the future, he would not have believed you.
“I didn’t play center until I was in the sixth or seventh grade, and I hated it at first,” Sims recalls with a laugh.
He had a change of heart a couple years later, and it is safe to say that he has grown into the position, as a second-year starter at center for UMHB. After all, he was voted as a First Team All-American by D3football.com following last season.
“In eighth grade or ninth grade, I just fell in love with it,” Sims added. “I really grew into the position and the responsibility. There’s a lot of pressure you have to be able to handle to play at a high level. I enjoy it. Being at this point in my career, as a team captain and member of the unity council, I love having that responsibility. I wouldn’t want to play any other position.”
And the coaching staff probably would not want him anywhere else, either. One of the more overlooked positions in the sport, having a quality center is vital to a team’s offensive success. The responsibilities of snapping the ball at just the right moment upon hearing the quarterback’s cadence, then immediately blocking for a running back, or shuffling to one side in pass protection, are not easy to get the hang of.
“He does such a great job of getting people to where they need to go,” UMHB quarterback Kyle King said. “Just the complexity of center is very tough and he does such a great job with that. I have been blessed with him. He is a great teammate and just an overall outstanding football player.”
Sims has taken charge, continuing the legacy of great Crusader centers, including Steven Sellers, who was a three-time First Team All-ASC honoree as well as an All-American before graduating in the spring of 2021.
It was at that point that Sims became the Cru’s starting center. It was a welcome change from two seasons at the guard position, and as he recently noted in an interview with True To The Cru, returning to center “was like coming home.”
“It actually wasn’t much of a change,” he added, when asked about the switch to center before last season. “When I came here as a freshman [in 2018] I was the backup center, so it wasn’t a new position. But in my sophomore year, I played guard, since there were injuries on the o-line. I stepped in and tried to be versatile for my team.”
It is that attitude that has helped Sims, along with so many others, contribute in significant ways to UMHB’s on-field success. Selflessness is not a quality that lacks, nor is team leadership in most cases, especially in seasons like the present one, where six seniors, five of which are fifth-years, regularly start on offense.
“Last year, we had a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball who were fifth-years, and came back and said ‘We’re going to prove to the country that we’re still here and winning,’” Sims said. “[Those of us on the offense] all saw that and wanted to mimic that.”
And hence, UMHB’s core offensive players are back for one more run at a national title. Winning last year’s Stagg Bowl was incredible, but Sims felt he still had more work to do in Belton.
“My big thing coming back was, I just wanted to cement my legacy here. And continue the tradition that has been built here and my love for the game. I feel like I’ve done great things since I’ve been here, as an individual and as a team, but I felt like I had a little more left to do, and improve, and add on.”
Having a number of his fellow seniors making the same decision themselves only added to Sims’ confidence that he was making the right decision by coming back in 2022.
“All the guys who I came in with as a first-year were coming back. They’re like your family, and seeing all of them saying, ‘We’re going to come back, we’re going to [win a national title] again, added more to the flame.’”
For as good as Sims has been on the field, he has been just as stellar in the classroom, as a mechanical engineering major. Though a challenging degree path, pursuing engineering has been something he has been committed to since high school, impacted by several engineers in his extended family.
“I have a few examples of engineers in my family,” Sims said. “I have a great father figure in my dad, but the best thing I love about my family is that I can look to more than just my father when I need guidance. Seeing them, and seeing how they lived, structured their lives, I thought engineering would be a good route for me.
“I love being outside, and fixing things, and being hands-on. I know engineering encompasses a lot of that.”
Before he graduates and sets his sight on a career in that field, Sims will look to play a role in engineering something else: a second straight national title for one of D-III football’s most notable programs.
The victory two weeks ago over then-No. 6 Hardin-Simmons gave Sims plenty of confidence that the Crusaders can accomplish everything they have set their sights on this fall.
“We’re a young team,” he said. “We’re still growing and bonding and reaching our full potential. That win was a great way to show me that this team is very capable of doing everything we want to accomplish.”
With experienced starters like Sims leading the way, that certainly seems to be a legitimate outlook.