Simms who was absent from one open Saturday session as he attended his prom, then others while away from campus due to family bereavement, was already second on the newcomer interest list of West Virginia fans at his position. Even though he put up outstanding statistics during his senior year at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Mary., (43 receptions for 1,020 yards and 20 touchdowns) it was Steven Smothers of Franklin High who garnered more of the off-season recruiting buzz. With Simms out of public view for much of the spring, that anonymity grew.
Compounding the lack of attention was the emergence of players such as fellow freshman Kennedy McKoy, who quickly pushed his way onto the depth chart at running back, and other newcomers such as defensive end Reese Donahue, who is also slated to avoid a redshirt. Without any on-field exploits to document, Simms became an overlooked member of West Virginia's newcomer corps.
All that went by the wayside, though, in the Mountaineers' Gold-Blue game at The Greenbrier. The final showing of the spring on the glorious stage of West Virginia's finest resort served as a fitting backdrop for Simms' emergence. Like the flowers which dot the grounds, Simms bloomed in front of the crowd of approximately 6,000, catching five passes for 52 yards and three scores. Two came from fellow freshman Cody Saunders, with another delivered by William Crest – showing Simms' ability to work with different passers despite limited time in the system.
Asked if Simms' performance was representative of what he had done during the closed practice sessions during late March and April, head coach Dana Holgorsen had one of the best lines – and most intriguing comments – of the spring.
“He has no clue what he is doing, but it's actually fun to watch. He does everything wrong, and all he does is score touchdowns. That's what he looks like,” Holgorsen said with a big smile. “He has a long way to go, but he can start. He can stop. He has great hand-eye coordination. He can stretch the field. He is going to be a contributor for us next year.”
The head coach was certainly sending a bit of a message to the young wideout, telling him not to be happy with his performance and that he has much more to learn. But also shining through that was some excitement, as he sees that Simms has the ability to win one-on-one battles, beat defenders deep and make plays no matter what type of pass is thrown.
Coupled with Smothers, Simms gives West Virginia what appears to be a very talented pair of newcomers to wide receiver. And finally, after years of searching for enough players who aren't just depth chart placeholders, the Mountaineers might finally have quality depth – not just numbers depth – at the position. Returning pass catchers Shelton Gibson, Ka'Raun White and Daikiel Shorts are quality targets that each have their own ways of making big plays. Gary Jennings has fought through and rebounded well from a broken bone in his wrist to catch four balls for 92 yards and a score in the spring game. David Sills and Crest are big multi-purpose players who are athletic targets for passes. That's eight players, who, potentially, could score for WVU this fall, and that doesn't included Jovon Durante, who is currently suspended but is expected back for the summer session.
Granted, not all of this group can be expected to be difference makers in 2016. An injury here, a lack of motivation there, an academic slip-up somewhere else, and the field gets narrowed. However, all of these players, with the exception of Simms and Smothers, have had a least a taste of success on Big 12 fields – and some much more than that. Even if two or three don't continue their improvement arcs, there are enough players left to finally give WVU the depth and flexibility it needs to mount a consistent passing attack.