COLUMBIA — The way the Hickman football team is playing reminds senior Anthony Sims of his childhood. That’s because the Kewpies are winning, and winning often.
Not only has Sims revisited his winning ways, but he is also playing well. He serves the Kewpies as a running back on offense, a safety on defense and a kick returner on special teams.
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“It’s fun being able to be more than one (position),” Sims said.
His passion for football began when he started playing in fourth grade while his family was living in Sedalia. The teams on which Sims played during his four years in the Sedalia Youth Football League were dominant. He rarely felt what it was like to lose.
“I’m used to winning,” Sims said. “Where I was from, we only lost like one game and that was the championship game.”
That changed when he moved to Columbia after the seventh grade. His Oakland Junior High School teams didn’t win as much. Sims wasn’t accustomed to losing, and rather than put up with it his freshman season, he wanted to quit the team. But his mom wouldn’t let him.
“I thought she would understand, since I’m not used to losing, and maybe she would let me quit,” Sims said. “But she said, ‘No, you’re not quitting. This is something you love, so you need to stick with it.’”
Sims reconsidered and stayed on the team, but only for a short while. He was failing one of his classes, and team policy wouldn’t allow him to play. This was not the way Sims wanted to leave the team.
“It made me feel like a quitter, being the fact that I quit on my team,” Sims said. “But then I guess I was just thinking about myself and not the others (on the team).”
Sims academic troubles continued until he regained eligibility during his junior season when he earned a spot as the Kewpies’ safety. During his first season with Hickman, he made the all-district team. Although he hadn’t competed since junior high school, he hadn’t lost his knack for playing.
During preseason two-a-day practices during Sims’ junior year, Hickman coach Jason Wright gave him the nickname “Juice” after former NFL standout running back O.J. Simpson.
“Coach Wright just thought of it, and my number is 32. That was O.J.’s number,” Sims said.
Because Simpson has become a controversial figure because of past and present legal struggles, Wright said he had second thoughts about continuing to use the nickname.
“(Anthony) probably doesn’t like that now. Simpson’s in trouble,” Wright said with a laugh. “But I think the whole student body and the team has picked up on ‘Juice.’ When he gets the ball, everybody is hollering ‘Juice.’ That’s great.”
Sims said he still likes the nickname, because it signifies Simpson’s football prominence and athleticism, not his problems off the field.
“It doesn’t bother me at all, because I know I’m not that type of person,” Sims said.
Sims is one of the Kewpies’ top returning defenders. He led the team in fumble recoveries and ranked third in tackles. Wright said Sims has become a leader for the defense.
“He really leads by example and by voice,” Wright said. “He’s a great, spirited kid and plays the game with energy.”
Sims helped with the team’s confidence level last season when the Kewpies finished 3-7. He tried to keep his teammates positive, telling them to shake off a bad play. Wright said Sims has elevated his leadership this year and that the players are responding to him.
“I think that you’ve always got to have a guy that takes the team up on their shoulders when things are going bad and adversity hits,” Wright said. “You’ve always got to have a guy that’s going to say, ‘Let’s go guys, let’s go. We can do this.’ And that’s Anthony.”
During Hickman’s 37-0 victory against visiting Francis Howell lastFriday, Sims scored his first touchdown of the season on a 71-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. A cheer for “Juice” could be heard from the stands and the Hickman sideline where afterwards Sims received high-fives from several teammates. Then he grabbed a water bottle, tilted his head back and took a couple of quick drinks before he had to head back to the field, this time to play defense. There wasn’t much time for him to rest.
That’s how Sims likes it, though, as long as the team is winning.