Denzel Mims was a four-sport athlete at Daingerfield High School, and most of the skills that made him exceptional were on full display in his breakout performance for Baylor last weekend against Oklahoma.
He showed his track speed when he got behind the Oklahoma secondary for a 71-yard bomb from Zach Smith. He unveiled one of the skills that made him a district MVP in basketball when he made several leaping catches against the Sooners.
Mims showed his focus and athleticism as a receiver when he made a one-handed grab of a tipped pass by an Oklahoma defender and managed to get his feet in bounds on the way down.
About the only skill he didn’t show was his arm, which at one time made him a promising baseball prospect.
“I hurt my arm when I was pitching as a freshman in high school,” Mims said. “I still can’t throw a spiral at all.”
Though Mims isn’t likely to challenge Smith for Baylor’s starting quarterback role, his value as a receiver is off the charts.
The sophomore set career highs with 11 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns against the No. 3 Sooners, and showed everybody that he has the potential to be a premier receiver in the mold of former Baylor stars like Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, Corey Coleman and KD Cannon.
Mims busted the Oklahoma secondary all night, making touchdown catches in the first, second and fourth quarters as the Bears nearly pulled off a major upset before dropping a 49-41 decision at McLane Stadium.
“He has so much talent and so much potential, and he’s working at it, but that was the first time you saw some confidence where he knew he could do this,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule. “The plays down the sideline, he became a guy with the matchup where we didn’t feel like they could cover him and he didn’t feel like they could cover him. And that was really good for the quarterback to know, that if he had 1-on-1 he could go over there to Denzel and he’d make the play.”
With junior Chris Platt expected to be out for the season following a knee injury against Oklahoma, Mims will become even more important to Baylor’s receiving corps moving forward.
“Oklahoma is the No. 3 team in the country, so it felt good to be able to do that against them,” Mims said. “I knew I had to step up and Coach Rhule pushed me and told me I needed to be productive and give it my all. I bought in to what he said and went out there and did it.”
Mims’ 11 catches and three touchdowns against the Sooners matched the numbers he had accumulated in his previous 14 games with the Bears, including 11 games as a freshman last season.
“He’s got a great future, there’s no question about it,” said Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley. “He’s a talented kid who made a lot of plays and some real competitive catches. He’s got a nice frame and runs well.”
Smith feels confident throwing to Mims any time in any situation. At 6-3 and 197 pounds, he can outjump most defenders and he’s fast enough to beat cornerbacks deep.
“He’s a freak athlete, a freak guy, and I’m pleased to be throwing to him,” Smith said. “That one-handed catch was unbelievable. I didn’t see that coming, but a phenomenal play.”
A big reason he chose Baylor out of Daingerfield High School was because of all the talented receivers that have come through the program.
“I’ve been into Baylor since I was little,” Mims said. “I always wanted to come here. When you’re young, you see a good team and a color you like, and you want to go to that school. That’s what I stuck with and I wanted to learn more about it. It’s close to home, so I said I wanted to be a Baylor Bear.”
Coming from a family with three older brothers who all played football, Mims naturally wanted to follow in their footsteps. Daingerfield has a great football tradition, and several of his cousins played, including former Texas State defensive back David Mims II, the son of former Baylor running back David Mims.
Mims also admires cousin Keyarris Garrett, a former Tulsa receiver who is currently a member of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers practice squad.
“I just looked up to them and wanted to do what they did,” Mims said. “I looked up to Keyarris a lot. His senior year (at Tulsa) he led the nation in receiving yards. That’s why I wear No. 15 now is because he wears 15 with the Panthers.”
After playing quarterback throughout junior high and his freshman year of high school, Mims switched to receiver following his arm injury in baseball. The more he watched Baylor on television, the more he wanted to play receiver for the Bears.
“As I was growing up, KD and Corey were guys I looked up to, and I said I want to do what they did or more,” Mims said. “I was upset for a while but then I came to the reality that to be great in football I needed to start working on this position.”
Mims made second-team all-district as a sophomore in 2013 and then made first-team all-district as both a receiver and a safety as a junior. During his senior year, he was named the District 7-3A MVP after making 31 catches for 721 yards and 10 touchdowns and running for 256 yards and five scores.
Playing receiver, running back, cornerback and safety at Daingerfield, Mims loved every minute he could get on the field.
“I wanted to get my hands on the ball any way I could, so I played any position they wanted me to do,” Mims said. “I loved playing running back for some reason, maybe because I was fast and could outrun them.”
Though Mims played every position on the floor for the Daingerfield basketball team and earned district MVP honors in in 2015, track was the sport he gained the most recognition for after he won the Class 3A 200 meters state title with a time of 21.3 seconds as a junior.
“It was amazing,” Mims said. “I came into state with the second best time, but I knew I was going to win it. I ended up winning by 20 meters. I needed to win to bring back a gold medal.”
Though Cannon and Ish Zamora were Baylor’s veteran receivers last season, the Bears needed depth and Mims played as a true freshman. Though he made just four catches for 24 yards, Mims learned a lot from Zamora since they had similar builds and skill sets.
When Cannon and Zamora declared for the NFL draft with college eligibility still on the table, Mims knew he needed step into a key role this year.
“I saw the way Ish works every day and went full speed every play,” Mims said. “There wasn’t a play that he was off, and I know I needed to do that to be great. When we lost Ish and KD, I knew I had to step up and help the team at receiver so we could be good as a receiving corps.”
Mims’ teammates could see his potential throughout spring practice and preseason camp, and aren’t surprised by the numbers he’s delivered so far this season. They expect him to continue to put up big numbers as the season progresses.
“He’s really one of our great receivers,” said Baylor cornerback Grayland Arnold. “I like him as a player and as a person, and he’s all about the process. His skill set is amazing. He’s athletic and can probably jump higher than anybody I know, and he’s very, very fast. That sums it up right there.”