MSU tight end Dion Sims uses unusual path to find his voice, overcome adversity and achieve success on and off the field
Junior tight end Dion Sims smiles after defeating Eastern Michigan, 23-7, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, at Spartan Stadium. Sims had one touchdown during the game. Justin Wan/The State News
For Dion Sims, there’s no more time to wait. He waited a year for the chance to be a part of the MSU football team (3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) after being suspended for his involvement in the theft of 104 Detroit Public Schools computers in 2010.
He waited for a cast on his left hand to stop limiting him as a receiver after breaking his hand last season.
And now, as an upperclassman and the Spartans’ most experienced pass catcher, Sims knows everything he’s waited for has led to this moment.
The time for him to seize his opportunity is here, and the junior tight end is determined to capture it.
“Time is ticking,” Sims said. “I feel the sense of urgency to get going. I don’t have any time. I can’t wait on anything. I can’t hold back; I (have to) just go.”
Senior tight end Dion Sims runs for the endzone on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 at Spartan Stadium. Sims contriubted one of two touchdowns in the Spartan's 23-7 victory over EMU. James Ristau/The State News
It doesn’t take more than a quick glance to realize what made Sims one of the most sought-after recruits in the state of Michigan coming out of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s High School in 2009.
Standing 6 feet 5 inches and 285 pounds, Sims has a unique combination of overwhelming size and top-line speed that led the recruiting website rivals.com to rank him as one of the top five tight ends in the country and a four-star recruit.
“I call him a weirdo,” senior offensive guard Chris McDonald said. “He’s too big to play wide receiver, but he’s too skinny to play (offensive) line, but that’s a positive for us.”
George Porritt has been the head football coach at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s High School since 1989 and said Sims was soft-spoken, but had obvious, “immeasurable talent.”
“He was nice, very good to his teammates, had a good attitude (and) worked hard. He wasn’t afraid to work,” Porritt said.
“He knew the sky was the limit for him as an athlete. … He’s a monster now.”
Finding the light
For Sims, things always appeared easy on the football field, from the way he’d soar to catch a pass or send a defender flying with the slight lowering of his shoulder.
But following his freshman season, Sims was faced with the darkest moment of his life: a felony charge for involvement in the theft and sale of 104 computers belonging to the Detroit Public Schools, valued at $158,000.
After pleading guilty to charges of receiving and concealing stolen property, and being sentenced to probation and community service, Sims was suspended from the football team for the season and said he battled depression.
The charges have been expunged from his record as part of his probation agreement.
For the first time in his life, Sims no longer had the outlet of football to help him through life’s adversity, an adjustment that he said was the hardest part of the experience.
“Not being able to play for the first time, I just felt bad inside,” Sims said. “I really understood the value of the game and just being out there with your teammates and having fun. I know football’s not going to last forever, but it goes back to never taking anything for granted and living every day like it’s your last.”
Porritt said Sims came to MSU with issues in his personal life that prevented him from being focused and maximizing his ability.
As difficult as the year away from football was, both Sims and Porritt said it was critical in helping the tight end live up to his potential this year.
“I think there was a kid that was very naive to a lot of things, and (MSU football head) coach (Mark) Dantonio deserves a lot of credit for coaching him through that situation,” Porritt said. “(He) really fathered him, and I give coach Dantonio a lot of credit for that situation. It could have been very easy for him to boot him off the team.”
Reborn a leader
*Sims now is the team’s leading receiver and already has set career highs in receptions and receiving yards.
“The way he carries himself,” and a “businesslike attitude,” have been phrases Dantonio has used to describe the change in Sims, who has worked to grow into a vocal leader, despite being naturally soft-spoken.
“I think he’s matured,” Dantonio said. “He’s very quiet, (and) he’s unassuming, for as big as he is. You don’t know if he’s in the room, but he’s that elephant in the room. He’s there, I promise you.”
As Andrew Maxwell has worked to find his rhythm as a first-year starter with an inexperienced group of receivers, Sims has been the junior quarterback’s security blanket, the pass-catching target he knows he can count on.
“He’s a great guy to go to when you know you need three or four yards,” Maxwell said. “You just have that assurance that he’s going to do what he needs to do.”
And when Sims looks back on his past tumultuous time at MSU, it was the discovery of an inner strength, greater than all of his muscle, that proved to be the underlying force allowing him to persevere.
“I just feel like I was strong throughout the whole situation,” he said. “I never thought about giving up. … There was just never a point where I was going to let myself down, and I think that really helped a lot with pushing myself.
“Now (I’m lending) a hand out to others and (letting) them know you can overcome anything.”