Wherever life takes him, Charles Sims’ hometown will always be H-Town. From birth Sims has been a Houston guy, and until this year never really considered leaving.
Plans change, though. Back in the spring, Sims mulled over his future and came to the conclusion that a change of scenery was in order. He ultimately transferred to West Virginia, finding a community in Morgantown that didn’t exactly resemble his hometown of Houston, the fourth-largest city in the nation.
“It’s very different. College football is huge, because there’s no pro team,” Sims said. “It’s smaller, and I’m definitely not used to these hills. It’s different weather. I’m used to playing football when it’s 105 (degrees) out. I know it gets real cold here.
“But I’m real comfortable with everybody and everything. The transition has been easy.”
Sims wasn’t flying in completely blind. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgersen, an assistant at Houston during Sims’ freshman year, provided some familiarity to the idea of moving to Morgantown and proved to be the perfect welcoming committee, Sims said.
Holgersen termed Sims’ move “a business decision” from a player who had a realistic opportunity to enter last April’s NFL draft.
“He knew he’d be able to fit in and get an opportunity to play in the Big 12,” Holgersen said. “That was his motive. He loves the University of Houston. He got his degree from there. He’ll be a Cougar for life, but he wanted to be able to play in the Big 12 to increase his draft stock, which we’ll put him in position to get done.”
Football was always the dream. Sims’ childhood was filled with days of playing pickup games in the neighborhood, then sprinting home in time for his mother, Dinetta Oliver, to fix dinner. His daydreams revolved around starring moments in college and the NFL, and by the time he reached Houston’s Westbury High School, his promise was plainly evident.
Staying close to home
Whereas some teenagers can’t wait to burst out of the door and leave home upon graduation, that wasn’t the case for Sims. Mostly because he didn’t want to leave Mom behind.
“That wasn’t me. I’m a mama’s boy,” Sims said. “She means the world to me, always has. Anything I needed, whatever it was, she’ll do in a heartbeat. And I’d do the same for her.”
So Sims signed with the hometown Houston Cougars, knowing his family would be able to make regular trips to see him play. And, really, his decision was justified instantly. Sims made six catches for 128 yards in his college debut against Northwestern (La.) State as a true freshman in 2009, and went on to lead the Cougars in rushing with 698 yards on the season. He also brought home the Conference USA Freshman of the Year honor.
“Getting adjusted to the speed of the game was the biggest thing,” Sims said. “The speed is a lot different from high school to college. But that first year gave me confidence, and I just tried to keep working hard.”
The more arduous transition played out in the classroom. Academic issues forced Sims to sit out the 2010 season, though it didn’t cost him a year of eligibility, as the NCAA granted him a redshirt season.
Sims dedicated himself to getting his grades right, and when he returned to the field in 2011, he quickly got back to work educating defenders about his multifaceted talents. Over the next two seasons, he piled up more than 1,600 rushing yards and another 948 receiving.
Sims said he takes pride in proving himself as a complete back, whether it’s blocking, running or pass-catching.
“That’s very important. You don’t ever want to be viewed as one-dimensional,” he said. “If they take away one thing, you want to be able to do something else. I actually love lining up at receiver.”
As 2013 dawned, Sims debated entering the NFL draft, but opted to return to college. But he also realized it wouldn’t be at Houston.
Sims, whose on-field talents are far more boisterous than his personality, didn’t go into great detail in what prompted him to leave Houston. It was just time, he said.
“It was a family decision,” he said. “I sat down with my family, and we thought it was time to move on to the next chapter in my life.”
Sims’ choice resulted in a sticky issue for Houston, which reportedly had made plans for a Sims billboard to promote the Cougars in the city. Houston coach Tony Levine blocked Sims from transferring to any of Houston’s conference or nonconference opponents, or any school in Texas.
With those restrictions in place, Sims narrowed his choices to Cal and West Virginia — and his connection to Holgersen won out.
Play right away
Best of all for the Mountaineers, Sims would be eligible to play right away rather than sit out a year, because he graduated in May with a degree in health.
Though there have been some peaks and valleys already for the Mountaineers, Sims has distinguished himself as a steady performer. Through five games, the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year ranks second in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk with 388 rushing yards, including 120 and 118 in wins over William and Mary and Georgia State, respectively. He also accumulated 142 all-purpose yards in West Virginia’s eyebrow-raising 30-21 upset of then-No. 11 Oklahoma State last week.
Whether that victory made believers of the rest of the country isn’t significant, Sims said. The lessons it imparted to the Mountaineers are what really matters.
“We know now what we can do, what we’re capable of,” Sims said. “All week long, Dana told us that we needed to strain our bodies out there, to give it our all and leave nothing on the field. That’s what we’ve got to do from here on out.”