Florida State junior running back Marcus Sims barely had made it out of the visitors' locker room Oct. 16 at North Carolina State when his cell phone started ringing.
"All your hard work is paying off," his big brother, Ernie Sims III, the former FSU All-America linebacker now in his third year with the Detroit Lions, said breathlessly.
"I just kept at it in practice and got some confidence in myself and when I got into the game, I had an opportunity to make some plays," Marcus answered calmly.
Some plays? Come on.
He blocked well and ran powerfully between the tackles in short-yardage situations with four carries for 12 yards, including a 5-yard gain to convert a third down. He also showed the soft hands and field presence of an H-back with five catches for 38 yards, both career highs. Three of his receptions netted first downs and two came on the go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown drive in the 26-17 win.
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher called Sims an "unsung guy" in the game that helped the Seminoles (5-1, 2-1 ACC) climb back into the Associated Press poll at No. 24 entering Saturday's conference game against visiting Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-1).
"We've been waiting to get him back," coach Bobby Bowden said. "I made the statement to ya'll that he's been running better than I've ever seen him run. And he has. So Jimbo's been wanting to get him back to work him into the game plan more."
Sims' story isn't simply one of a player finally having the chance to shine.
It's one of resiliency, determination and maturation — on and off the field.
Sims, 21, a heralded prospect out of Tallahassee's North Florida Christian in 2006 who was wooed by Southern California, Clemson and Miami, played in eight games as a true freshman and won a starting job at fullback last season.
But in the fourth game, against Alabama, he fractured his right ankle. Dealing with the disappointment of his first severe injury, not to mention months of tedious rehabilitation, weren't his only troubles.
There was a misdemeanor disorderly conduct arrest in March (an adjudication of guilt was withheld in the case and as a first-time offender, he paid a fine), according to law enforcement records. Then there was his involvement in the academic misconduct scandal, which meant a four-game suspension this season.
"During that whole time, I started seeing things in a whole different perspective — what I needed to do and how I needed to work to get to the level that I wanted; once I saw the target, I locked on it," he said.
"The thing that worries you when someone gets sidetracked is how he's going to react to adversity," said his father, Ernie Jr. "Marcus got himself back together. He is on track to graduate. Were we concerned? Very much so. But did he turn a corner? Did he realize, 'Hey, I need to start making the right decisions'? Yes."
You couldn't help but notice that in the fall. The 6-foot Sims not only dropped about 7 pounds to get to a leaner, stronger 230, he has also displayed a new mentality.
"He's practicing much better; coming to practice with a purpose, not to just get through it," Fisher said. "That comes with maturity."
The extra bounce in Sims' step can also be attributed to feeling less weight from the name on the back of his jersey. He is, after all, the son of two highly successful former Seminole athletes (dad, a former Jefferson High standout running back, played for Bowden at FSU in 1977-78 and 1980-81, and mother Alice was an All-America sprinter at FSU from 1980-83) and the sibling of another celebrated Seminole.
Heck, he has been called "Ernie's little brother" his whole life and, while Sims said Ernie has always been positive and a "motivating" force for him, his surname increased fans' expectations and made it tougher for him to create an identity.
"I've definitely gotten a lot more comfortable in my own shoes," he said. "I'm keeping my head no matter what anybody says. I'm just going to keep working and keep doing what I have to do to help the team."
"It wasn't a case of him showing anybody he had it. He already had it," his father said. "(USC coach) Pete Carroll and all those other coaches knew that. He's just filling the role that Jimbo wanted him to be in. … What you're seeing is Marcus is making a tough situation into a good one with all that he's been through as a player and a student."
No wonder the call from brother Ernie last week ended the way it did:
"Keep it up. I'm proud of you."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.