TAMPA — Consult the baby-name books, and you'll learn the first name of sophomore Jacob Sims means "supplanter," fitting for a player who entered spring drills as the new starter at right tackle.
To better understand how a second-year walk-on (known as Jake to his USF teammates) could get in that position, you might start with his prophetic parents, who gave him his name as a nod to the 1971 John Wayne film The Big Jake.
Sims, you see, isn't your standard walk-on. He's 6 feet 5, 290 pounds and turned down scholarship offers from Cincinnati and Navy to walk-on with the Bulls, whose coaches have never treated him any differently than their scholarship players.
"I don't see myself as a walk-on player. I like to see myself as getting in there and battling," said Sims, a two-way lineman at Winter Park High. "It shouldn't matter if I'm on scholarship or not. I'm going to work to play."
USF returns four starters on the offensive line, leaving right tackle as the only wide-open opportunity. Sims knows the starting line well. His roommate his freshman year was guard Zach Hermann. They redshirted the same season, with Hermann stepping in as a starter last fall. This year, his roommate is USF's other starting guard, Ryan Schmidt, and both have helped in his development.
"Jake's done a great job this spring," coach Jim Leavitt said. "You add in the three months in the summer, he's a guy who's going to work extremely hard. I think he's got a chance to be very good."
In tonight's spring game at Raymond James Stadium, Sims will get significant playing time to prove himself against some of the Bulls' top defensive players.
"I want to treat it like a game, grade out well; no sacks, no missed assignments and 100 percent effort," he said.
Coaches said Sims' resiliency at a position where injuries can pop up easily has helped him as he's a consistent, healthy regular on the line.
"He's one of our best five. He's there every day, practicing every day," offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. "He's a very talented football player, and the combination of that, practicing every day and being smart, gives him a chance to play."
Sims still needs to hold off challengers to his starting job this fall, and Leavitt has said freshmen such as Plant City's Mark Popek will be given a shot to make an immediate impact.
Sims said he has been motivated by his coaches' confidence in him as they've lined him up against a variety of defensive players, such as tackle Aaron Harris and linebacker Chris Robinson.
"I'm getting more than just one look, and that's going to help me in the fall," he said.
Last year's spring game gave Sims the chance to line up against end George Selvie, who would go on to be an All-American.
"It was an experience," he said. "He did really well. It threw me into the fire and made me get a lot of experience quickly."
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