One might think it was always Ernie Sims III’s dream to play in the NFL.
Fame, fortune and fun, all as a result of football.
But that was never the case. And it wasn’t until after his sophomore year of college did it hit the former North Florida Christian and Florida State star that the pros was a possibility.
Now that Sims’ eight-year NFL career is over, and his days chasing down running backs in college are long in the past, and memories of being a two-time All-Big Bend Player of the Year for the Eagles are remembered largely in archives, Sims has learned what a true legacy entails.
“Growing up, I just loved football and wanted to play football,” said Sims, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. “I knew my pops played football at Florida State and my mom ran track at Florida State. I knew I was good at football.
“The process of giving back all started with my parents. … I noticed them being father figures and mother figures to those that didn’t have them in the house. Over time, through my maturity – I’ve made my mistakes – and now that I’m married for six years and have two kids, I see the whole picture.”
The fabric of Sims’ life – his talent, his fortune, his parents, the city where he was raised, and even the length of his football career – he doesn’t view as coincidence but a plan set forth by God to enact the next and most important phase of his existence.
“It’s my calling to come back and impact kids,” Sims said. “The world we live in today, we need role models, such as myself. Am I perfect? No. But athletes in sports have a great opportunity to impact kids because everybody loves sports.”
Sims’ parents, Ernie Sims Jr. and Alice, have been involved in juvenile justice programs for years, and they started Capital City Christian Cruisers Track Club, on which Ernie Sims III ran. He wasn’t alone, as current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back and Rickards High alum William Gay, current N.Y. Jets and former FSU and Lincoln High cornerback Antonio Cromarite, as well as former FSU and Lincoln safety Pat Watkins, all participated.
“It was more than track,” Sims said. “My parents were impacting youth to try to be successful not only in sports but in life also, and helping to build character and values in kids’ lives.”
In March 2009, Sims launched his charitable initiative, Big H.I.T.S. Foundation, which was designed to support community-based organizations that served at-risk youth. The acronym stands for “Helping to Instill Tools for Success.”
Starting Friday morning at Tom Brown Park, Sims’ 8th annual charity weekend will kick off, starting with a football and cheer camp, leading to a track invitational on Saturday at FSU’s Mike Long Track, and culminating with a banquet that night where 13 scholarships will be given away.
Sims, who recently launched a training component to his everyday life, called Big H.I.T.S. Performance, will hold a charity flag football game Friday night, simultaneous to a Family Fun Night in the Park.
“I just try to approach it with love and open my heart up,” Sims said. “On the field, I have a different demeanor about myself, but off the field, I want people to say, ‘That’s a good guy. He loves what he’s doing. He’s compassionate.’ That’s the message I want these kids to see. I do this because I love working with kids.”
Sims has plans, now that his career is over, to increase the amount of workshops and programs he does. One day, he hopes to have a flag football game that’s so big that it has to be held at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Maybe that’s just to walk out of a tunnel one more time to be cheered for something different than an ability to crush an opposing player’s body.
“I want to bring the whole city together,” Sims said. “Black, white, purple, pink. I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. I don’t care what your background is, at the end of the day my blood is red just like yours.”
In conversation, he always draws back to what his parents taught him, which he said formed a cornerstone for him to stand firm on even when he did stray into poorer behavior.
“Foundation” becomes a critical word for Sims, since he knows not every child grows up in the same circumstances he did. He’s determined to fill a void wherever there may be one, whether that’s just as a football coach or someone even more nurturing.
“Athletes are so powerful, positively and negatively,” Sims said. “We need to do our jobs of trying to help these kids. That’s why I do what I do.”
WHAT: 8th annual Ernie Sims Big H.I.T.S. Foundation Charity Weekend
WHEN: Friday, July 10 – Saturday, July 11
Football & Cheer Camp (open to boys and girls ages 7-16); Tom Brown Park, Fri., 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Charity Flag Football Game (open to Community Leaders and Stakeholders); Tom Brown Park, Fri., 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Family Fun Night in the Park (open to the entire community; Tom Brown Park, Fri., 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Track & Field Invitational (open to youth and adults ages 3-90); FSU Mike Long Track, Sat., 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.