Sitting in Virginia's quarterback meeting room on Tuesday morning, Phillip Sims learned he'd be getting practice reps with the first-team offense, and the assumed aim was that he'd get his first college start this weekend at Duke.
Other than that, it's been a business-as-usual week for Sims, which is exactly the way he wants it. Though he came out of Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake in 2010 considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation's top three high school quarterbacks, and he arrived in May at U.Va. after earning a national championship ring as a backup at Alabama, Sims never has gone out of his way to be an attention seeker.
The quiet life he led as a backup at Alabama and U.Va. (2-3 overall, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) is changing. Ready or not, he's about to be the center of a lot of attention.
"It's not really something you can just sit there and think about too much," said Sims on Wednesday afternoon about earning the starting job. "You've got a job to do. Now people are asking more of you, and you have to deliver on that."
On Monday night, U.Va. coach Mike London said Sims would get the first team reps this week in practice if a lower leg injury he sustained last Saturday while coming off the bench to replace former starting quarterback Michael Rocco in a 44-38 loss to Louisiana Tech didn't cause issues. Sims said his leg is fine.
"I haven't really had any trouble with it," said Sims, who has completed 28 of 46 passes for 340 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions while playing in all of U.Va.'s first five games as a backup. "I've taken all the reps I'm supposed to take. It hasn't kept me out of any practices, any reps or anything like that. It's doing pretty good. It was just a little hit that I took, nothing serious. It wasn't something I was concerned about going forward."
Last week, Sims said the biggest challenges he's had in picking up U.Va.'s pro style offense have dealt with learning the terminology. Now, he feels like he has a grasp of 90 to 95 percent of the play book.
One of the primary reasons Sims has the starting job is due to Rocco's interceptions this season. Rocco has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,116 yards and six touchdowns, but he's thrown eight interceptions — more than any other starting quarterback in the ACC. U.Va. enters the game against Duke (4-1, 1-0) last in the ACC in turnover margin (average of minus-two per game).
Despite his impressive high school resume and elite tutelage at Alabama, where he was unable to edge out AJ McCarron for the starting job, Sims never has sought the spotlight among his teammates, according to London. Sims said a main goal upon transferring to U.Va. was to "fit in with the rest of the guys as far as me just being a normal teammate," adding that he was "nobody special."
"He didn't come here saying, 'I'm from Alabama, I'm this, I'm that,'" London said. "He came in and adapted to the team culture here. Guys have accepted him. He's ingratiated himself to his teammates, didn't come in with a lot of bravado, pounding his chest. He just came in and worked, tried to learn the way we do things here."
Now, with the pressure on him to perform, Sims insists he isn't going to change his approach. He's waited three seasons to become a starter again, and he hopes to make it last.
"Nobody is asking me to go out and be Superman or Michael Vick or Peyton Manning or anything like that," Sims said. "I'm just being asked to be Phillip Sims and go out there and do the things I've been taught to do within this offense."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun