By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Prior to the opening kickoff in the Wildcats’ season opener at Shotwell Stadium Sept.7, few spectators knew who the return man wearing No. 7 for ACU was.
His lanky 6-foot-2, 190 pound frame stood patiently on the 5-yard line, got under the ball and returned the pigskin 95 yards for a touchdown. Fans wanted to know who he was, but he wasn’t talking. As he crossed the goal line, he just flipped the ball to the referee and was congratulated by his teammates. No cockiness, and no trash talk.
DaRay Sims wasn’t always a quiet guy. In fact, he was downright cocky in high school.
But three years later, the football teams’ explosive kick returner and wide receiver is as silent as they come.
“In high school he was always talkin’,” said cousin and freshman teammate Danieal Manning, who played alongside Sims at Corsicana High School. “He was ‘the man’ and he knew it.”
Upon graduation in 2000, Sims carried that same attitude with him to Corsicana’s Navarro Junior College, with limited results. As a freshman, he caught 34 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns.
“He didn’t do too well his first year because of that (attitude),” Manning said, “but he learned to humble himself his sophomore year. He became a team player instead of an ‘I’ player.”
The result was Sims being named first team all-America by both the National Junior College Athletic Association and the Junior College Golden Circle as a sophomore. That year he caught 51 passes for 1,064 yards and 10 touchdowns, while averaging 20.9 yards a catch and 96.7 receiving yards per game.
And the soft-spoken Sims has started to make some noise for ACU this season. Through three games, he has eight receptions for 162 yards and two scores, but his biggest contributions have come at kickoff returner. As the Cats’ deep man, Sims has seven returns for 251 yards (a 35.9-yard average) and the aforementioned touchdown, highlighting his ability to come through big for his team.
“He’s made some big plays for us this year,” head Coach Gary Gaines said. “That’s probably the biggest thing he brings to this team- the big play potential.”
Sims gets this potential primarily because of his speed. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, and was one of the top track and field athletes in Texas as a senior at Corsicana.
“He’s got really good hips and feet,” Mannings said of Sims. “He can make quick moves, and he uses his speed to get around defenders. If he gets behind you, it’s pretty much a done deal. Six points.”
“If there’s a crack defensively, he has the speed to go the distance,” Gaines said. “He’s a big threat to opponents.”
That threat caught the eye of the ACU coaching staff last season, and assistant coach Colby Car-thel began recruiting Sims during the middle of last school year. Sims committed early, signing with ACU in February 2002. Not only did Sims come to Abilene, but he convinced his cousin, who had already signed with the University of Nebraska, to do the same.
“He asked me what my situation was up there, and I told him I’d probably be sitting out the whole year,” Manning said. “He told me to come check out ACU, so I did.”
Manning said that off the field, Sims has a compassionate side that goes along with his quietness.
“As a person he’s family-oriented and he cares about people’s needs,” Manning said. “He’s not the type to talk, though. He doesn’t say too much.”
Even Sims acknowledges his own silence.
“Yeah, I’m pretty quiet,” he said. “I just try to let my actions speak for themselves.”
And those actions have spoken for themselves on the field as well.
“He has a great attitude out there and he works hard,” Manning said. “His athletic ability makes those around him work harder too.”
Sims said he hasn’t decided whether he prefers playing wide receiver or kick returner more.
“I like them both about the same,” he said. “It’s all just an adrenaline rush for me.”
And if Sims has his way, all the adrenaline will result in his ultimate goal, being named a Division II all-America at either kick returner or receiver. According to Manning, big cousin’s dream is not out of reach
“I could see him being all-American,” Manning said. “He never gives up and he has a great work ethic. I know I wouldn’t wanna be playing against him.”