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August 12, 2011
Preternatural talent and a close bond with his mother carried him away from trouble and toward a role as an emerging campus sensation
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August 12, 2011

Running On The Right Track

Preternatural talent and a close bond with his mother carried him away from trouble and toward a role as an emerging campus sensation

SHORTLY AFTER RUSHING FOR MORE THAN 115 YARDS AND TWO TOUCHDOWNS IN A 42--16 home win over New Mexico State late last September, James Sims was tired. So he told coach Turner Gill that he was done, that he had had enough. Of talking to the media, that is. The Jayhawks' running back had become so in demand among reporters that he asked for a moratorium on all remaining interview requests. "I got nervous with a bunch of cameras in my face as a freshman," Sims explains eight months later, "but I've gotten better. Some teachers helped me out with interviewing. I feel much more comfortable now."

After Gill granted his wish, the running back out of MacArthur High in Irving, Texas, went on to lead the Jayhawks in rushing yards (742) and total touchdowns (10), including four against Colorado last Nov. 6. What to do for an encore? "I want 1,000 yards," Sims says. "I want to be the best back in the Big 12."

He may be on his way. Only 19, Sims has enormous upside. His reps in spring ball were kept light this year ("Coaches already know what I can do," he says), but Gill says even in the last six months he's seen a transformation in the 6-foot, 206-pound back who rushed 258 times for 1,762 yards and 20 TDs as a high school senior. "He has a lot more patience through the hole," the coach says. "He trusts his linemen and trusts the play a lot more. He's going to be even more productive this year."

Sims's formative years were spent in Abilene, about 180 miles west of Dallas, with his mom and grandmother. Mary Luna had James, her first-born, at age 14, which, she says, meant that the two of them essentially grew up together. "He's a mama's boy," Luna says. "He never left my side." Rambunctious and full of energy as a youngster, Sims was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. His mom says at one point he was taking up to 40 milligrams of Adderall each day per doctor's orders. "They worked," Luna says, "but he would come to the dinner table looking like a zombie. I was like, O.K., we're not having this. I took them pills and flushed them down the toilet. We put him in football instead."

In the sixth grade Sims moved to Irving, where his adolescent years were not unlike a lot of his friends'. But their paths went in distinctly different directions in high school when Sims began receiving more than a dozen football scholarship offers from programs that included Utah, Purdue and Iowa State. "He used to get mad at me when I made him go to bed when it was still light out. 'Mama, I want to go and see my friends!' " Luna recalls. "But where are they now? The boys he used to hang out with, only one other went to college. One got killed, a couple have been locked up. So I tell him he better be glad Mama put you to bed and made you eat your peas."

Sims has put on a lot more size since those pea-eating days, and although he doesn't have lightning speed in the open field, he's shifty and always seems to be falling forward when he's tackled. And he's got a grip on things: He didn't fumble once in 168 carries last season. As Sims says, "If you can't hold on to the ball, Coach won't put you in the game."

Kansas will have its areas of concern this season, but Sims won't likely be among them. And though he won't shut out the media again, he'll probably let his game do most of the talking.