New Virginia quarterback Phillip Sims couldn’t help but feel a few jitters when he took the field with the Cavaliers for the first time Monday. The Alabama transfer admitted to being a little rusty, his last formal practice coming back when the Crimson Tide held their spring game on April 15.
Then there are the expectations, and the adjustment to a new school and new teammates. After enduring a “nerve-wracking” process in which the NCAA granted him a medical hardship waiver to play this year, Sims was suddenly thrust into the middle of Virginia’s already crowded quarterback depth chart.
But the former five-star recruit tried his best to remain diplomatic when the Cavaliers opened training camp, emphasizing that he’s ready to compete for the starting job under center and prove doubters wrong now that he has been given a fresh start.
“You’re trying to do some things a lot of people said you can’t do,” Sims said. “There’s doubts since I went to Alabama. Nobody thought I could play at Alabama. Then I got there, I competed, I did well and some people said, ‘Oh, he’ll never start here.’ Then I left and then they’ll say, ‘He’s not that good anyways.’ Then I got here. ‘Oh he’s not gonna play there, either.’
“So there’s doubt since I graduated Oscar Smith High School. My job is to come out here and shut everybody up.”
That would be too tall a task for one day, but Sims acquitted himself well during his first practice in Charlottesville. He took snaps with Virginia’s second team offense during 11-on-11 drills, and though there were no spectacular throws, Sims did complete a long pass down the middle to tight end Paul Freedman. He also had an interception to freshman cornerback C.J. Moore toward the end of the session in which it appeared he didn’t see the defender.
But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor came away impressed, both with how Sims did in the quarterbacks’ meeting room and how he took teaching over the course of the actual practice.
“We thought it would be the right thing to challenge him mentally a little bit and I thought he showed poise,” Lazor said. “He made some mistakes, but he also made some good plays and I liked the way he handled himself.”
Sims said Virginia’s offensive scheme is similar to the one he used at Alabama, but “it’s different terminology.” His next task is to set old habits aside and process what Lazor is teaching.
“The number one thing Phillip has to do is learn our system and that’s going to take time,” Lazor said. “We really pushed it taking a brand new guy and putting him out and getting him these team reps on the first day, because we couldn’t work with him during the summer. He kind of had to do it on his own with the other guys, so I thought he really passed that test with flying colors.
“But that’ll be the challenge for him early on, because every day we’re gonna put new stuff in and it’s gonna pile up, and even though he has experience of college football, schemes that he can relate it to, in the huddle it’s gotta come out in our language.”
Being on the field, though, was a relief for Sims after completing mountains of paperwork as he sought that medical hardship waiver to avoid normal NCAA transfer rules and not sit out a year after transferring to Virginia. The NCAA ultimately ruled in Sims’s favor because his father recently underwent heart surgery and there is a doctor at the University of Virginia hospital that specializes in his condition.
Sims admitted it was difficult “not knowing how or what direction your career is gonna go in, that somebody else has your career in their hands. But at the same time, I’m blessed that they gave me the opportunity to come out here.”
Let the competition begin.
“Only one quarterback can play at a time and it’s just how the game is,” Sims added. “I’ve learned it and I’ve accepted it and this is what I have to go through. Each and every one of us wants to play. We all got to beat each other out. It’s gonna make us all better at the end of the day.”