TAMPA — Eric Sims stood on the turf at Corral Memorial Stadium, watching his Jesuit soccer team warm up for a game against Middleton.
He took over coaching duties Sept. 17. But when Sims scans his surroundings, so much more than two months worth of memories fill his mind.
“Every day I come out it feels like I remember something that happened or something I went through,” said Sims, a Jesuit alumnus. “I fought a lot of battles here.”
Perhaps the biggest battle — replacing a coach who led Jesuit to 24 district titles and five state championships in 26 seasons — is still ahead of him.
When Bob Bauman stepped down as coach in August, the longtime Tiger recommended Sims, his former player, to athletic director Terry Rupp.
Sims, 36, had plenty of high school coaching experience. He had spent 12 seasons as head coach at Gaither, a job he took when he was just 23. During his tenure, Sims took the Cowboys to 10 postseasons and three state tournaments.
But Sims — also an assistant coach at his alma mater, University of Tampa, and the general manager of Tampa Bay United Soccer Club — decided to cut back on his obligations. Having felt he had done all he could with the Cowboys program, Sims left Gaither, and high school coaching, in June.
Or so he thought.
When Rupp called to talk about the opening at Jesuit, Sims entertained the idea. After sitting down with the athletic director, and his former baseball coach at the University of Tampa, Sims realized it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“This was the only place that I would have ever said yes to,” he said. “I’m a Tiger. I bleed royal blue and white. It’s just a part of me.”
As his team prepared Thursday for a game it would win 8-0, Sims sported his University of Tampa Hall of Fame ring. Sims, who still holds hitting records in baseball and goalkeeping records in soccer at the university, joined the elite group of former Spartans in October 2012.
But on other game days, Sims sports the ring that commemorates Jesuit’s 1995 state soccer title. It’s just a reminder, senior Michael Conlon said, that the new coach was in their same cleats not too long ago.
Bauman doesn’t hesitate when recalling Sims’ athletic career at Jesuit. After all, Bauman said, his former player was one of the best athletes ever to play for the Tigers. Sims, who played football, soccer and baseball at Jesuit, captained the varsity soccer team for three years.
In his senior season, Bauman moved Sims from goal to right midfield to give his offense depth. He played half a season on the field, Bauman recalls, and still recorded 11 goals and 14 assists while leading the Tigers to their second state championship in the sport.
“It changed the whole dynamic of our attack,” Bauman said.
Sims has the opportunity to lead the Tigers to victory once more. But this time, he has a different perspective. He understands the big task of taking over a program for which success is an expectation rather than a goal.
The change has forced his team to adjust, Conlon said. The Tigers felt that in their first game, a loss to Sickles in the Wharton Invitational. Conlon said the team struggled to master Sims’ 4-5-1 formation, different from Bauman’s pattern passing style of play.
Still, Conlon doesn’t need to look far to find his motivation, or be reminded of his new coach’s expertise. The evidence sits right there on his right hand.
“You can see the (championship) ring on him,” Conlon said. “It’s just something to look forward to, like ‘Hey, I want that. That’s real cool.’ ”
Players to watch
Kristopher Ospina, Lennard: The senior midfielder and first-team all conference selection last season has nine goals, four assists and 28 shots — more than double the next closest player — for the 5-1 Longhorns.
Jacob Vila, Jesuit: The senior midfielder has six goals for Jesuit, a team he helped lead to the region semifinal last season. Last year, Vila was one of 77 players named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-America team.
Christian Knight, Steinbrenner: Knight, a 2012-13 first-team all-Western Conference selection who helped lead the Warriors to a 4A state final last year, has allowed just four goals and recorded 11 saves for the Warriors.
Dylan Dyer, Brandon: Dyer, also a kicker for the football team, has five goals and is one of only two Eagles to have recorded more than one score this season.
Jacob Vander Luit, Newsome: Vander Luit is the Wolves’ only returning all-Western Conference selection from last season, as the midfielder earned second-team honors as a sophomore.
Records through Monday
1. Newsome (7-1): The Wolves’ only loss was in a tiebreaker against King in the Wharton Invitational, and Newsome has put up at least three goals in four of its seven matches.
2. Jesuit (5-1-1): The six-time state champion Tigers have had big shutout wins against Wharton, Bayshore and Middleton.
3. Brandon (5-0): The Eagles haven’t played the strongest of competition yet, but they do have a 1-0 win against a solid Lennard team.
4. Lennard (5-1): Nine Longhorns have scored at least one goal, and senior midfielder Kristopher Ospina is responsible for more than a third of Lennard’s 24 goals.
5. Sickles (5-2): The Gryphons, who won the Wharton Invitational to begin the season, recently put up a strong fight against a Mitchell team that might be one of the strongest in the Tampa Bay area.
6. Carrollwood Day (6-2): The Patriots have allowed opponents just four goals in eight games while averaging four goals per game.
7. Steinbrenner (4-1-1): The Warriors, a team that played for a state title a year ago, appear to still be strong, having already recorded a pair of shutouts. Their only loss is to, arguably, the best team around.
In the conversation: King (4-2-1), Robinson (4-1), Durant (3-2-1), Hillsborough (3-3)