Formerly a fullback, Tee Sims wasn’t jealous when he saw roommate and fellow Appalachian State defensive end Caleb Fuller rush for 23 yards on a fake punt against Georgia Southern.
“He came to the sideline,” Sims recalled, “and after he got through being congratulated, I was like, ‘I think I’m more excited than you.’ I was so happy. I was on the sideline screaming.”
Sims hasn’t registered any carries since he arrived at Appalachian State in 2015, but he’s posted plenty of sacks, even as the Mountaineers (6-4, 5-1 Sun Belt) rely on as many as seven defensive ends in a deep rotation that helps the starters remain fresh.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior from Covington, GA is among major college football’s best with 9.5 sacks this season, and actually was the national leader two weeks ago with 78 yards in sack losses.
With a first-place showdown at Georgia State scheduled this week (November 25), Sims has an incredible 16.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss in 22 games over the last two seasons.
“As you get more educated about the game, there are things that give you a little, minute edge over an offensive lineman, and then you can continue to grow,” Appalachian State defensive line coach Mark Ivey said. “I think Tee is in a great spot right currently. If I’m an offensive lineman, every time he lines up, I’ve got to feel like I’ve got to perform at a high level or he’s going to go get my quarterback.”
Sims already has the most single-season sacks by an Appalachian State defender since Marques Murrell recorded 13 over 15 games in 2006 to tie the school record he and Jason Hunter both set over the course of 15 games in 2005.
Sims transferred to Appalachian State from Georgia Military College, where he was primarily a fullback as a freshman in 2013. Two future Southeastern Conference (SEC) signees, including future National Football League (NFL) player DaVonte Lambert, were members of a talented defensive line. Sims caught one touchdown pass and blocked frequently for a back who set a junior college record with 2,387 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns during the team’s run to the national title game.
Excited to return to defense the following year, Sims had seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss. He committed to Appalachian State shortly after that season ended and appeared in the Mountaineers’ first four games of 2015 before rupturing an Achilles tendon.
After receiving a medical hardship, Sims didn’t lose a year of eligibility. He had shown promise by accumulating 2.5 tackles for loss in his first four games, but he faced a difficult recovery – both physically and mentally.
“It was my first time having surgery, my first major injury, and after it happened, I was like, ‘I’m not sure how I’m going to perform,’ ” Sims said. “(Coach) Ivey helped me through it, telling me, ‘You’re going to be fine. Get through your injury and just go out and play.’ In the spring and summer and camp, he was pushing me to make sure I didn’t focus on my leg, because if I played slow and focused on it, that’s how you can get hurt again.”
Sims, who is majoring in Criminal Justice at Appalachian State, opened the 2016 season with a flurry. He has five sacks in the first four games and added another when he made his first start in the Mountaineers’ sixth game. An injury forced him to miss the Troy game – Appalachian State’s only Sun Belt loss — and he ended the year with 7.0 sacks.
Sims’ consistency has improved as a senior. He has sacks in six of the Mountaineers’ 10 games, with 2.5 at Idaho on October 14 and 3.0 more at Massachusetts (UMass) two Saturday’s later. He even managed to post a sack and two tackles for loss against run-oriented Georgia Southern, which was held to 111 rushing yards and 80 passing yards in a 27-6 loss to the Mountaineers at Kidd Brewer Stadium two weeks ago.
“Right now, I feel like his (Tee’s) leg drive, his burst and everything else is better than what it has been the whole time he’s been here,” Ivey said. “The main thing he understands now, it’s not about how many sacks you get, it’s about playing within the scheme. The one stat that matters is winning these last few ballgames.
“Along the way, if we can recognize the situations, the down and distances, the times when to use those skills — that get-off and burst of explosion and great hand movement — to get more sacks, it could be quite a deal.”
The Mountaineers erased a 20-0 deficit in a 23-20 win at Idaho, and Sims helped lead a defensive effort that shut down the Vandals’ offense as Appalachian State rallied with four consecutive scoring drives. He had a hand in two sacks that set up a fourth-and-24 play on Idaho’s unsuccessful final possession.
All three of Sims’ sacks at UMass were third-down takedowns that ended drives, and those plays resulted in a loss of a combined 20 yards. He also had a sack for a 13-yard loss against New Mexico State.
Whether he’s bringing down a quarterback or stopping a running back behind the line, Sims has learned how to couple eye-opening stats with scheme-responsible activity.
“Coach Ivey, he’s always on me to make sure I’m working hard and not taking a day off,” Sims said. “I really salute him for pushing me and really getting me to where I’m at because when I first got here, I really didn’t know anything, but he kept pushing me.”