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To home and back

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Times Sports Staff pmarsh9485@msn.com

Linemen Sims, Doolittle shine in return to AU football

Frustrated by lack of playing time, homesick for the big city and for his family, defensive tackle Pat Sims decided in September to put Auburn in his rearview mirror.

Two years earlier, Sims had arrived at Auburn as a prized recruit. He'd chosen the Tigers over Ohio State and says he fully expected to make a major contribution as a freshman. Reality bit hard. Sims was redshirted after playing a handful of snaps against Louisiana-Monroe in 2004. He had to cope with the loss of his sister, who died two days after returning home from Auburn's game against LSU.

When things didn't seem to be going any better on the field two games into last season, Sims called his parents, George and Lizzie Sims, in Fort Lauderdale and told them he was through with Auburn football. His parents told him it was a bad decision, but Sims insisted he would finish out the semester in school and move on.

"In my mind, I knew I was going to be gone," Sims said. "I talked to my folks and had a change of heart. I'm just grateful everything worked out the way it did so I was able to come back." (Sounds like a Chette Williams Story to me.)

Today, Sims, a 6-foot-4, 312-pound sophomore, is one of the major stories of Auburn's preseason camp. He returned to the team late last season, earned trust in offseason workouts and in spring practice and made another move once preseason camp began. He is projected to be the starter when Auburn opens its season against Washington State on Sept. 2 at Jordan-hare Stadium.

As Sims struggled to adjust to the demanding life of a college football player, Tez Doolittle was going through struggles of his own.

Doolittle signed with Auburn out of nearby Opelika High School in 2003. He was convinced he could play fullback, but he was destined for the defensive line. In the spring of 2004, he decided he'd had enough and went home. But his departure lasted only a day.

"School wasn't going right," Doolittle said. "It wasn't going right on the field. I was too close to home. I thought 'Man, I'm just going to go somewhere else.' You have to grow out of that. Everybody is going to go through some of that when they are here."

Once he returned, Doolittle began a long climb back from obscurity. He did enough to get into three games last season. Barring injury, Doolittle, a 6-3 294-pound junior, will play in every game this season as the backup to starting nose guard Josh Thompson and will be the heir apparent next season.

Defensive tackles coach Don Dunn says it's been rewarding to see his once wayward pupils find focus and determination.

"Honestly, in the back of my mind, I knew they could do it," Dunn said. "It was very frustrating, and I think it was frustrating for them.

"Some days I did wonder if they were ever going to turn the light on. They've made a big, big jump."

For Sims and Doolittle, smiles have replaced sullen stares.

They have found not only satisfaction but enjoyment in the grueling work that is part of the game at Auburn. Doolittle has given new nicknames to himself, Sims and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks.

They are known as Fat, Black and Ugly.

"I'm Fat because I'm the biggest," Sims said, laughing. "Tez is Black. Sen'Derrick is Ugly because, well, because he's ugly."

Even a preseason camp that coach Tommy Tuberville says has been as physical as any he's been around hasn't been enough to dampen Sims' enthusiasm.

"I just came back to the team and did what I was supposed to do, worked hard and tried to do my best," Sims said.

"I'm just grateful for it and I thank Coach Dunn for believing in me and giving me a chance to come back and show people what I'm about."

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