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Bohls: Texas' Kenneth Sims earns deserving Hall of Fame induction

Kenneth Sims arrived in Austin from a challenging background as one of eight children of a single mom. He became an All-America defensive lineman at Texas and now is a College Football Hall of Famer.
  • Sims might have gone to Rice but for a slip of the tongue from the Owls head coach to UT.
  • As a freshman, Sims could barely get into the proper stance and couldn't bench-press 170 pounds.
  • Sims channeled a lot of his inner anger into his play on the football field.

Kenneth Sims was almost a lot of things before he became a Texas Longhorn.

And almost nothing, given his distressed circumstances.

He almost became a Texas Aggie until the school fired Emory Bellard. Plus, Sims was turned off by the rowdy A&M crowd at a basketball game in G. Rollie White with all its wild swaying this way and that.

He very nearly became a Rice Owl until that program’s head coach let it slip to legendary Longhorns recruiter Ken Dabbs that his school was about to snap up this rawboned kid out of Groesbeck who could run as if he were fleeing a burning building. It sent Dabbs scrambling to the nearest phone.

Sims could have become just another pretty good player and maybe even a basketball player for Abe Lemons until Texas strength coach Dana LeDuc put some meat — and muscle — on those bones and helped shape him into a 6-foot-5, 270-pound force who was a consensus, two-time All-American and Texas’ first Lombardi Award winner. The young “Pup,” as he was called by older players such as Steve McMichael, couldn’t get into a proper stance or bench-press more than 170 pounds as a freshman, but Monday he was named a College Football Hall of Famer.

He’s all that.

But he very easily could have been nothing, deserted along with his mom and seven siblings by his father, a truck driver, and so headstrong he briefly quit his high school football team before reconsidering. He started paying for his own clothes at age 12 and listened hard to a strong-willed, God-fearing single mom who put food on the table from her jobs as a maid and caterer and hung a wood-framed Ten Commandments above his bedroom door. It wasn’t for show. He missed just three days of school in 12 years.

But for the profound influence and discipline of the late Doris Sims and his coaches along the way, this angry young man might have gone off the deep end.

Ultimately, Sims was everything you’d want in a powerful defensive tackle who tossed aside blockers like rag dolls and was Aaron Donald before Aaron Donald. He played with an edge and a very large chip on his substantial shoulders, made 131 tackles as a junior and was topping that as a senior until he broke a foot against TCU.

"This is an honor that's long overdue," former Texas strength coach Dana LeDuc said Monday of Kenneth Sims' selection to the College Football Hall of Fame. "Kenneth could totally disrupt a game."

"This is an honor that's long overdue," LeDuc said. "Kenneth could totally disrupt a game, whether we were playing North Texas or Oklahoma."

Those who watched him play from 1978 to 1981 knew all about the outsized feats of a youngster who grew up in Kosse (population 471) outside Waco, but now everyone will because he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame as one of the best Longhorns ever tto play the game.

Sims, now 61 and living in Round Rock, was the best these eyes ever saw in my 48 seasons covering the Longhorns. It was the late Fred Akers who told pro scouts before the draft in 1982 that “Kenneth is every bit as good at what he does as Earl is at what he does.” That’d be Earl Campbell, for the uninformed, and Sims was easily the equivalent on the other side of the ball.

How good was Sims?

Good enough to be the top defensive vote-getter in the Heisman Trophy race in 1981, getting three first-place votes and finishing eighth overall. Akers used to say Sims didn’t need a highlight film. “Just turn on a game film,” he said. He received a draft grade equal to O.J. Simpson's, and New England made him the first pick.

How grateful was Sims?

So much so that he said, “I’m so proud of my teammates because you can’t have a Hall of Fame career without a bunch of Hall of Fame teammates.” Guys such as Jeff Leiding, Doug Shankle, Lawrence Sampleton, Steve McMichael, Bruce Scholtz, Eric Holle, Robin Sendlein, William Graham and Bobby Johnson.

How mean was Sims?

Angry enough that he erupted in a 9-7 win over SMU that year at Texas Stadium when he made four of his 29 career sacks and helped throttle the Mustangs’ running back tag team of Eric Dickerson and Craig James and won Sports Illustrated’s national defensive player of the week. “Thank God for (kicker) Raul Allegre,” he said.

Before becoming the first overall pick of the 1982 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, Kenneth Sims became Texas' first Lombardi Award winner.

All of that made Sims the man he came to be, someone who channeled a lot of anger from racism he experienced growing up in the days of segregated schools and separate water fountains for whites and Blacks. He’s proud to have been part of a 25-man recruiting class that was almost half Black.

“I was talking to Ray Clayborn, who played at Texas and was one of 40 scholarship players that had only four brothers,” said Sims, who grew up idolizing the world boxing champion he knew as Cassius Clay. “We had 12 Blacks in my class. And we played in the late ’70s. To see where we are now, we’ve made tremendous strides. Donnie Little was the first Black quarterback here, and I commend him because he and his family endured a lot of verbal abuse. But I believe in the goodness of man. There are lots of things that could have made me an angry guy.”

Maybe none of his life would have turned out the same if he hadn’t gone to College Station for an A&M-Texas game and been turned off by the Aggies' antics against Lemons and the Texas bench he sat behind.

Or if his mother had reacted differently when North Texas coach Hayden Fry dropped by during recruiting and told her he had heard a rival school had offered her a Grand Prix. She defiantly said, “We’re not getting a new car, and we aren’t fixin’ to buy one.”

Or maybe Sims would have been forgotten (but doubtful) at Rice if coach Ray Alborn hadn’t screwed up and leaked to Dabbs this secret out of Groesbeck and the “poker-faced Dabbs hadn’t gone to a phone and called (Texas defensive line coach) Mike Parker and said, ‘Mike, do you know where Groesbeck is? Well, you’d better find it because there’s a player there.’ ”

Boy, was there ever.

Such an outstanding, if raw, player who teamed up with a defense that set a school record by allowing a skimpy 63 points his entire senior season. Of course, the humble Sims recalled Monday that on the night a decade or so ago when their Mighty Goats defense was honored, the Mexia Black Cats, led by Ray Rhodes, an eventual five-time Super Bowl champion as an assistant coach, “put up 65 on us.”

No one ever did that to one of the defenses Sims played on. In his final season, Texas went 10-1-1, held every team but one to 15 points or fewer and beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. He recently kidded former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who called to inform him of his induction.

“What a tremendous run we had at Texas,” Sims said. “We hung our hat on defense. We did less talking and more playing. We weren’t paper tigers.”

Even though when he arrived, he barely knew how to get in a stance and had never seen the inside of a weight room, he said he remains forever grateful for the impact Texas had on his life.

“I didn’t mind when McMichael and Tim Campbell called me Pup,” he said. “I’ll never forget when McMichael told me, ‘You were playing pretty good when I was there.’ ”

Hall of Fame good.