LEXINGTON, Ky. --- For those who witnessed Ernest Simms' electrifying 86-yard touchdown against Georgia last season, visions of a former Kentucky standout most likely danced through their heads as the Wildcat receiver weaved his way into the end zone.
"Yeah, I've heard people say that," Simms said in regard to the inevitable Craig Yeast comparisons.
Same position. Same size. Same jersey number. Same blazing speed and heart-stopping elusiveness.
"The way I'm looking at it, Craig Yeast was great and he did his thing," Simms said. "Now I'm trying to do mine. When people see No. 3, I want them to think of Ernest Simms.
"With all the hard work I've put in, I'm looking for a great season. And if I have a great season, they're going to remember Ernest Simms and not be saying I was almost like somebody else."
Simms' emergence as a big-play threat almost didn't materialize last year. The previous UK staff had originally planned to redshirt the 5-foot-8, 170-pound former running back, but his performance in practice --- coupled with the Cats' thirst for a playmaker in the receiving corps --- forced Simms into action by the fifth week of the season.
"When (former UK coach Hal Mumme) first pulled me off my redshirt, he played me and started me in the Georgia game," Simms said. "He told me he was expecting big plays out of me. He said 'You're not a little freshman anymore. It's time to do what we brought you here to do. So that gave me a lot of confidence. When I came out there in that Georgia game, I already had it in my head that I was going to make something happen. Ever since then, that's how I go into every game."
And that's exactly what UK needs out of Simms, a junior, in 2001.
With a receiver corps void of a clear-cut No. 1 option, the Cats' staff is looking to Simms to fill that role. Last year he caught 10 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to his thrilling catch and run against homestate Georgia, the Warner Robins native also had a diving 31-yard TD reception against Vanderbilt.
"He's got to put that blazing speed to work," wide receivers coach Harold Jackson said of Simms, who is quick to note he recently posted a 4.25 time in the 40-yard dash. "I wish he was about another foot taller, because if he was he'd be (using his best J.J. Evans impersonation) dyn-o-mite. But he's got all kinds of speed there to use. If he does that, anything is possible.
"Ernest is a kid who really believes in his abilities. His confidence is really high right now, and he talks a good game out here in practice. I'm hoping he can carry it over to the game when it counts. I think he will.
Simms says the addition of Jackson, a former NFL standout who had 579 receptions and 76 touchdowns in his career, has pushed his performance to a new level.
"He's taught me everything," Simms said. "If there's anything to know about playing wide receiver, he knows it.
"I love coach Jackson with all my heart. He's a blessing from God to me. He's a great teacher and he believes in me. He makes me believe I can do anything out there."
Jackson has tried to show his protege that there are more ways to use his speed than just after the catch.
"You've got to know how to use your speed," Simms said, "especially in running your routes. I didn't always do that until I caught the ball."
Improving his hands and concentration levels have also been a focus of Simms' offseason workouts.
"The biggest thing I've done is just catch a bunch of balls. That's what coach Jackson keeps preaching to us," Simms said. "I've been on the Jugs machine for about 75-100 balls a day working on my hands.
"The skellies help a whole lot, too. If I hadn't been doing that all summer, I wouldn't be as confident as I am right now in the offense or myself."
Simms thinks he has dropped passes wiped from his mindset. Any time a player drops a pass in practice --- either on the offensive or defensive side of the ball --- they have to drop immediately and give their coach some pushups.
"I got 10 (pushups) today because I was goofing off a little bit," he said. "I'm not going to let that happen again.
"It's all mental," Simms added. "When you drop a pass, you've got to learn to let it go. There's another play. If I drop one now, I say, 'Ernest, you're better than that,' and I try to go out and catch the next one no matter where it is."