Commentary

Sims impresses in senior season debut

Updated: August 31, 2009, 11:39 AM ET
By Chris Lawlor | ESPN.com

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- The ESPNU cameras rolled in Friday night for one reason: Phillip Sims of Oscar Smith High.

[+] EnlargePhillip Sims
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comPhillip Sims threw for 270 yards and a touchdown in Oscar Smith's season-opener Friday.

High school football fans were given the glimpse of the future this weekend as ESPNU 150's top-ranked quarterback (and No. 36 overall prospect) honed his craft.

The Alabama commit showed off his arm, passing for 270 yards and a first-half touchdown on 15-of-20 accuracy, but his iron-clad leadership was the difference for nationally ranked Oscar Smith during a 27-13 victory over Venice (Fla.).

A crowd of more than 8,000 stuffed themselves into the Tigers' stadium, situated near the southeastern Virginia coast, on a night when the remnants of Hurricane Danny splashed the field. Despite the downpour in the second quarter, Sims and his Tigers sloshed their way to their 22nd consecutive regular-season victory.

Sims' powerful right arm was the main weapon, but his unflappable demeanor was prominently on display. The weather forced Oscar Smith's vaunted vertical game to the ground. Long routes were shortened, and for the 16th straight time (including playoffs), the Tigers won.

"As soon as the rain came, I kept reminding the running backs to have two hands on the ball; secure it," Sims said. "As a quarterback, you need to take more a leadership role. I love the game of football and really study it."

Sims, 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, is hardwired for the position. Tigers coach Richard Morgan noticed Sims' acumen four years ago.

"We had him run the two-minute offense during practice and he hit on all of his passes and moved the team downfield," Morgan recalled of the August 2006 session. "Once we saw a 14-year-old doing this at a young age we knew Phillip was special."

To wit, Sims was pressed into duty during his freshman year. When starter Dexter Merritt shredded his anterior cruciate ligament, Morgan marched his budding prodigy onto the field. In the final six games that season, Sims passed for 1,200 yards.

Sims entered his fourth varsity season as Virginia's sixth-leading passer all-time with 7,597 yards and needs 1,206 yards to establish the standard. At this rate, he'll erase the record by midseason.

Friday night, Oscar Smith needed to stop Venice's star quarterback, Trey Burton (6-3, 205 pounds). Burton, a dual threat who's headed to Florida, accounted for 370 yards, including 83 yards rushing and two TDs.

Burton, the 26th-ranked athlete by Scouts Inc., nearly tied the score at 13 on the final play of the first half but was dropped one foot short of the goal line as time expired.

"That was a big play," Morgan acknowledged.

Burton scored a TD from 1 yard in the first quarter for Venice's 6-0 edge. The Tigers then rattled off 27 unanswered points despite playing conservatively and shortening the playbook. In the second half, the Tigers scored on a pair of 2-yard runs for a comfortable 27-6 lead. Burton dashed 7 yards late in the contest to close out the scoring.

Afterward, Sims pulled Burton aside.

"I told him what a great player he," Sims said. "And he told me that he'd see me when Alabama and Florida play in 2010 at Tuscaloosa."

Heading into the game, Venice hoped to pressure Sims from the edge, deploying deep coverage.

"Championship teams need to successfully run the ball and we did, but they were playing for the home run ball and Phillip threw underneath the coverage and took what they gave him," Morgan said.

"He's an intelligent player; probably the smartest quarterback I've coached. He had the entire playbook memorized when he was 15 [years old]; that rarely happens. He's able to call the coverage at the line and put his linemen in position for blocks."

Venice coach John Peacock was impressed that Sims' "eyes were always looking downfield."

"He has a rifle for an arm," Peacock added. "He can throw it 50 yards and make it look effortless. Phillip isn't looking to run, but when he does break the pocket, it's about looking downfield."

As a junior, Sims earned a national reputation in leading the Tigers to the Class AAA Division 6 crown and the No. 6 position in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 final rankings. He threw for 3,167 yards and 38 TDs and only four interceptions.

Sims fielded several college offers. He also anticipated a protracted recruiting process, but following an unofficial school visit to Alabama, he broke off contact with other suitors.

"I wanted a college where football is a really big deal," Sims said. "I was already to wait until the Under Armour All America Game to make the announcement, but why wait when everything was in place?"

"He's an intelligent player; probably the smartest quarterback I've coached. He had the entire playbook memorized when he was 15; that rarely happens.

-- Oscar Smith coach Richard Morgan

At the University of Alabama, he found that idyllic fit. The Crimson Tide beat out Miami, Tennessee, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia for his services. He did not consider in-state schools Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Sims ended the recruiting process early because "it felt right," he said.

He is one of six ESPNU 150 players in Alabama's current 19-man recruiting class of 2010.

Sims, along with future classmates cornerback Demarcus Milliner (Millbrook, Ala./Stanhope Elmore), tight end Brian Vogler (Columbus, Ga./Brookstone), offensive guard Chad Lindsay (The Woodlands, Texas) and offensive tackle JuWuan James (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett) have been selected to play in the Under Armour High School Football All-America Game in January.

When Sims visited Tuscaloosa, Ala., he was impressed with the tradition of the program, his future coaches and the unbridled passion of the fans. He'll visit again Oct. 24 when the Crimson Tide host Tennessee.

He even received a taste of Alabama's star-player treatment while dining at the famed restaurant, Dreamland Barbeque.

"The fans recognized me as I'm eating my chicken dinner. I thought, 'Wow, they know who I am.' Those fans are great. It wasn't expected; it blew me away."

And that's what the Tigers have done to the competition since Sims took over in the 2006 season. As a starter, Sims is 36-3, and Oscar Smith hammered Southeastern District opponents by an average margin of 43 points in last year's title run.

This season, the district schedule should be a walkover, beginning Sept. 11 at Indian River (Chesapeake).

"I try to perfect my craft each week," Sims said.

"We're headed in the right direction," said Morgan, who improved to 92-10 in 10 seasons. "Phillip has a high football IQ and has learned just about everything of our offense; things are second nature to him."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

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