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Sims: playing through great expectations

A former first-team high school All-American, Dominique Sims is finally starting in his senior year.

Sometimes after a full day of football practice and classes, watching film on opposing teams and working on his premedical homework, Dominique Sims goes for a walk.

“He’ll go by himself or sometimes I’ll tag along,” friend, roommate and offensive lineman Brandon Harston said.

Sims, the 22nd-ranked Gophers’ senior “drop” linebacker has had a lot to think and talk about on the walks over the years.

Sims came to the Gophers in 2000 as one of the highest-touted recruits in the team’s history.

An academic wiz majoring in veterinary medicine, Sims came into the program as a high achiever and was accompanied by even higher expectations.

But now in his final year with the Gophers, Sims has played positions on the team varying from quarterback to linebacker trying to find his fit, starting just two times in his first three years of eligibility.

Gophers’ defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said some criticism has been laid on Sims

because he was so highly regarded. But Hudson said Sims has worked hard ever since he came to the Gophers.

“He was put on a pedestal,” Hudson said. “It’s probably been hard on him from a personal standpoint. But he is an absolute success in what he is doing here – both academically and athletically – because we’re winning football games with him and he’s a role model academically.”

In 1999 – his final year at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis – Sims was a USA Today first-team All-American, Associated Press Minnesota state player of the year, and the top-rated recruit in Minnesota by many publications, after dominating both the quarterback and safety positions.

Along with all his athletic awards, Sims also maintained a 4.16 grade point average and graduated third in his class.

Sims is following in the medical tradition of his father, who is a dentist in South Minneapolis; and his grandfather, who is a veterinarian in South Dakota. Sims has balanced college football and college premedical workloads for five years.

“It’s definitely a full-time job and then some,” Sims said. “I don’t think people who are just students and work realize how you have to really, really balance.”

As a linebacker, many of Sims’ free hours include watching hours upon hours of video on other teams.

“I have a lot of work with what I am doing, and he has as much or even more than I have,” said junior defensive tackle Mark Losli, who is a finance and management information systems student. “Especially as a linebacker, he has to watch the most film – even in his free time when he could be doing homework.”

After playing in all 11 games as a redshirt freshman free safety in 2001, Sims saw his time slashed the next season.

But Sims and the Gophers had much harder things to deal with in 2002.

Teammate Brandon Hall was shot and killed outside a downtown nightclub a day after he played his first collegiate game for the Gophers.

Sims, who was Hall’s roommate at the time, and the entire team were blindsided.

“It was tough for him, it was tough for everyone,” Harston said. “We looked on (Hall) like a brother. To see Dominique bounce back from that – to see all of us bounce back – is awe-inspiring.”

Later that year, Sims made the switch to linebacker. Sims played off the bench the next year because Hudson said the adjustment took some time.

Sims said it was hard being on the bench. But he said he trusted Hudson and was doing what was best for the team.

Hudson, whom Sims calls “an educator” in a broad sense, said in his coaching he is very up front with his players.

“You give ’em advice and cheer them up when their head is down,” Hudson said. “As a coach you have to be honest, and I think Dominique has always respected honesty more than somebody putting him out on the football field at the wrong time.”

Now in the 2004 season, on a highly regarded Minnesota team, Sims is starting at “drop” linebacker – a spot Gophers coach Glen Mason said “isn’t a heck of a lot different” from his original position.

Sims said Wednesday that classwork has mellowed out as he approaches graduation, and it appears he has found a steady way to contribute to the Gophers before he moves on.

Harston said whatever Sims ends up doing, whether he is working for the Minnesota Zoo or making a career in football, he will “end up impacting people’s lives.” It appears Sims still has – and always had -great expectations from his teammates.

“I always sit and talk with Dominique about his high school and coming in with the stigma that everyone put on him,” Harston said. “But I’ve realized that he is a hard worker. Even if he was an All-American, you can tell he is the kind of guy who is going to work to get what he wants.”

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