A Star Among The Prep Stars

Prospects from around the state and the southeast showed their stuff at the Nike Football Combine.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--With more than 200 college prospects from across the Southeast in attendance, the 2002 Nike Football Combine was one of the better collections of athletes to attend a Nike camp in recent years.

That was the assessment by officials from Student Sports, who run the combines around the country to give high school juniors an opportunity to show off their athletic ability to college coaches and learn techniques and football skills at the same time.

Ernie Sims has the look of someone who means business at the Nike Combine in Tuscaloosa.

Even on two crowded football practice fields covered with outstanding athletes, some combine participants stood out in the crowd. Perhaps nobody at the session looked more impressive than Florida prep star Ernie Sims, a chiseled, 6-1, 217-pound two-way star from North Florida Christian High in Tallahassee. That is not surprising considering the fact that Sims has already been identified as one of the top prospects in the country for next year's signee class.

It's doubtful that the high school junior did anything to improve his stock in the eyes of college coaches, who already have him at the top of their wish lists, but the running back/linebacker says the trip north to Tuscaloosa was not a waste of time. "The Nike Camp was a great one because I learned some good agility drills and some techniques for covering running backs," he told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I learned some speed techniques that I think will help me run faster."

Speed is something that Sims was born with. He has been timed at under 4.4 for the 40-yard dash and is running the 100 meters for North Florida Christian this spring. He has a best time of 11.1 for the 100 so far as a junior and is hoping to bring that down as the season progresses. His fastest 100 is 10.7, but Sims said, "I just weighed 200 pounds when I did that. I am not sure I can run that fast at my current weight. They weighed me at 217 at the combine. I have lost some weight running track. I would probably be about 225 now if I wasn't on the track team."

Sims is a top prospect as either a linebacker or running back. He participated in the drills with the linebackers in Tuscaloosa, but says that doesn't mean he necessarily wants to be recruited to play defense in college. "They made me choose the position I wanted to be at for the drills so I decided on linebacker," Sims says. "I just figured I needed to work on playing linebacker and I am glad I did. I got a lot out of it."

Ernie Sims (right) is shown during a one-on-one coverage drill. He intercepted the deflected pass on the play with an acrobatic, diving catch.

About the only negative at the camp for Sims was his 40-yard dash time, which was done indoors on artificial turf that was in rough shape. A variety of players mentioned that it was tough to run fast on the surface and some of the camp officials admitted that it was not conducive to running good times. "I ran a 4.5 flat on that stuff," Sims said, with a look of obvious disgust. "That turf in there (pointing to the indoor facility) is terrible. I just didn't like it all."

Sims was more pleased with his test result on the bench press. He pumped out 27 reps of 185 pounds, one of the better efforts at the combine.

The good news for Auburn fans is the fact that Sims says he is very interested in the Tigers and has them at the top of his early list that includes Florida State, Florida, Miami, Tennessee and Southern Cal. "I am still open," he said. "Some colleges might assume that I am going to Florida State because of where I live and because my father played at Florida State, but that is definitely not the case. I want the other colleges to recruit me and I am going to go to the school I feel best at."

His weekend in Tuscaloosa was not enough to convince him that the Crimson Tide is a team worthy of his consideration. "No, I am not interested because they are on probation and it is a bad one," he said.

However, he will be back in the state this summer to attend a football camp at Auburn. He will also travel cross country to attend one on the campus of Southern Cal, Auburn's season-opening opponent. He will also head south to Miami for a camp there and possibly a couple more. "Those are the three that I remember," Sims said. "I will probably go to a couple others."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Auburn coaches were checking out the action in enemy territory. Tommy Tuberville and his assistant coaches Joe Whitt, Phillip Lolley and Terry Price were taking notes on what they saw as players participated in a variety of drills. Tuberville and Tide head coach Dennis Franchione chatted for several minutes on the Tide practice fields while watching drills...Several in-state players who stood out, Williamson High quarterback JaMarcus Russell, a 6-6, 220-pounder who towered over the other QBs. He also showed a strong arm and moved well. Wide receivers Matt Caddell,6-0, 175 of McAdory, and Chad Jackson, 6-1, 201 of Hoover, were both impressive. Defensive back Eric Brock, 6-0, 180 of Benjamin Russell in Alexander City, stood out in drills as did 6-0, 190 defensive back/running back Eric Gray from West Morgan...Out of state athletes who were especially impressive include: 6-5, 300 offensive lineman Delvechio Ellis of Vicksburg, Miss., High,; 6-2, 170 wide receiver Chris Johnson from West Bolivar High in Rosedale, Miss.; 6-3, 287 center Jerry Sevin from John Curtis High in River Ridge, La.; and 6-5, 290 offensive and defensive lineman Donnie Woods from Jefferson High in Tampa, Fla.

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