Kansas football has featured some great freshman running backs in its history. Names like Tony Sands, June Henley, Kerwin Bell, and Clark Green all made their mark and had memorable Jayhawk careers.
But none of those former greats rushed for over 100 yards in their
first game as a freshman.
That hadn’t happened until Saturday, when Kansas true freshman James Sims exploded on the scene and rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown
on 17 carries in KU's shocking 28-25 win over No. 15 Georgia Tech at
Memorial Stadium. The 6-0, 206-pounder had 75 yards after halftime,
running through, around, and even over defenders.
During one play, Sims showed his flair by hurdling over a defender on
the left sideline.
“That’s the first time I used that move before,” Sims said. “It was
kind of a quick little decision I had to make. There were two defenders
on the ground so I just jumped over."
It was indeed a magical day for Sims and the Jayhawks, who rebounded in
grand fashion just a week after KU’s heartbreaking 6-3 loss to North
While senior running back Angus Quigley started the game, Sims entered
the contest in the first quarter and never stopped running. So did the
humble, polite freshman from Irving, Texas, with the high top haircut
expect to gain 100 yards in his career debut?
“I was just going out there to play,” Sims replied softly. “I wasn’t
trying to keep up with my stats. I was just trying to help the
‘”It’s a great feeling right now,” he added. “It’s a blessing.”
Sims’ teammates certainly felt blessed to have him make such a big
contribution and bring the running game to life.
“I knew he was going to produce,” junior receiver Daymond Patterson
said. “James is a heck of a running back. I’ve seen that once he came
in (to Kansas). I ‘m just happy for him, proud for him because he’s
really put in a lot of work and he really stepped up. I’m glad he did
what he did.”
So is sophomore receiver Bradley McDougald.
"He is a great running back,” McDougald said. “He reminds me of Toben
(Opurum, KU’s leading rusher as a freshman in 2009) last year. That's
what the guys in the locker room were talking about. He came in with a
lot of intensity. We believed in him and he believed in us, that was
the biggest thing. He is a very tough runner."
Sims admitted he was “a little nervous” before the game, “but once I
got my first hit, it all went away.”
He credited the improved offensive line for his performance.
“They told me they were going to get the job done and that’s what they
did,” Sims said.
Sims said he was extra motivated against Georgia Tech since he didn’t
play in the season-opening loss versus North Dakota State.
“I had to bounce back and work even harder because I knew my
opportunity was going to come,” Sims said. “I just took advantage
of it and it paid off. ... I just want to build on it and get better
After the game, Sims was mobbed by jubilant fans on the field.
He said they told him, “’Good running, just keep it up.’”
“It was a great feeling to know that the fans like me and like
everything we’re doing with the program,” Sims said. “We just want to
keep it going.”
Sims should quickly become a fan favorite — for his play and his unique
high top hairstyle. That drew attention to reporters after the victory.
“I wanted to keep it old school,” Sims said. “I wanted to be a little
different. I get laughed at, I get compliments. I just like it. It’s my
He said he “grew it out last July and kept it growing. I got it to the
length I want it and I just want to keep it like that.”
KU coach Turner Gill should have no problem with that. After all, how
you can argue with someone who made school history by rushing for 101
yards in his first game as a freshman.
Sims was also pleased how redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Webb
performed in his first career start. Webb completed 18 of 29 passes for
“We’ll have a bright future,” Sims said. “We’ll just build from this
game and continue to work harder and harder and get to the Big 12
And who knows — if Sims keeps up his pace, he’ll join Bell (1980) and
Henley (1993) as just the third freshman in KU history to rush for over
1,000 yards in a season.