A recent tradition of fine running backs and the
commitment to make the ground game a priority are keeping the Tennessee
Volunteers in the hunt for the nation's top prospect.
Tallahassee (Fla.) standout
Ernie Sims, the No. 1 player on the
team, had reduced a burgeoning list of scholarship offers down to five in
late August, but has left the door open for the Vols to stay in the mix.
"We let them know that I've got a top five, but
we're still interested," said Sims, who is also considering Florida State,
Miami, Florida, Auburn and Georgia. "Mainly, it's their rushing tradition.
They love to give the ball to their running backs. I'm OK with playing
either side of the ball, but I'd kind of like the opportunity to play
running back, and Tennessee is very impressive there."
Sims (6-0, 220, 4.5) is also rated the nation's top
inside linebacker coming off a junior season which saw him record a whopping
188 tackles for North Florida Christian. Most of the teams on his final list
have given him the option of which position he'd like to play, at least upon
entering their respective programs.
"Auburn has been the most active trying to recruit
me as a running back. Tennessee as well," he said. "Miami, Florida State and
Florida, along with Georgia, have all pretty much told me they see me on the
defensive side, but they just want me on the team, so they said it was up to
Cutting his list down from dozens of the nation's
premier programs to just a handful was a tough task, according to Sims.
"It was hard," he said. "My dad has been honest with
them and told a bunch of schools that we weren't interested anymore. They've
pretty much respected that, so we haven't had quite as many phone calls
around here lately."
Were there any schools that were particularly hard
to say "no" to?
"Southern Cal," Sims said. "I had developed a great
personal relationship with their head coach (Pete Carroll) and coach (Lane)
Kiffin. We had some great conversations during the summer, and I liked their
program a whole lot. They thought I could come in and start at running back,
but in the end it was just too far away from here."
The team closest in proximity, Florida State, was
also the college home for several members of Sims' family. His father, Ernie
II, played for the Seminoles in the 70s, and his mother, Alice, was a member
of the track team. A brother, Mike Gibson, also played for Bobby Bowden's
With such family ties, some may assume that Sims is
a lock to stay home in Tallahassee.
"Not at all," he said. "Me and my dad have tried to
make that clear. We've been open and honest with everyone when they ask
about it. We wouldn't name all those other teams if we weren't looking at
All part of the attention garnered when you're the
nation's top prospect. Sims sounds like he's taken it in stride.
"It's been a great feeling and a great
accomplishment, but the main thing I've tried to do is not get the big
head," Sims said. "I've tried to stay focused and push myself to another
level, to be better than I am right now. I know I've got to keep working
because there are other players out there working hard to be the best. I
can't slack off."
Through five games for North Florida Christian
(4-1), Sims has rushed for 498 yards on 47 carries. He has also recorded 37
tackles on the defensive side of the ball, grading out at 100 percent.
Sims has yet to set his official visits, but has
been making some trips for games. Most recently, he was in the Orange Bowl
stands for No. 1 Miami's come-from-behind victory over Florida State. "That
was a weird game, but really fun," he said. "Both teams showed me a lot of
He had been planning a trip to Athens, Ga., for the
Bulldogs' game against Vanderbilt this weekend, but had to cancel. He says
he'd like to make a trip to UGA later this fall if time permits. Auburn and
Tennessee may also get a visit.
The only other definite date on his calendar is Oct.
26 as Notre Dame visits Tallahassee for a big showdown with FSU.