A few months ago, Houston coach Tony Levine gave me a ring for one specific reason: to talk about Charles Sims.
You could hear the excitement in his voice, the optimism, the confidence that Sims would be the best running back in the Big East in 2013. Sims had just decided to return to school for his senior season, and despite an injury-plagued 2012, Levine believed he had the best all-purpose back in the league on his roster.
Now, everything has changed. Sims abruptly decided to leave the team last week after receiving his degree, giving no explanation for his decision. Houston has been left in the dark as well, inexplicably losing its best player without much in the way of a farewell.
What could have happened in three months to change Sims' mind? Why would he decide to return to school, then leave a month after the NFL draft? These questions have not been publicly answered, though they have left everybody scratching their heads.
There is no question this is a big loss for the Cougars, who not only relied on Sims in the rushing game, but in the passing game as well. His versatility made him exceptionally valuable. And he was one of the most experienced backs in the entire league. Before spring practice began, Levine talked about the possibility of being able to take some of the workload off Sims to help keep him healthy, because Houston had developed two talented youngsters behind him.
Well, those two talented youngsters are now going to be in the spotlight with Sims gone. Redshirt sophomore Kenneth Farrow is expected to go into fall practice as the No. 1 running back, with sophomore Ryan Jackson right behind him. Farrow was second on the team in 2012 with 86 carries for 466 yards and two touchdowns, and he made three starts toward the end of the season.
Jackson, whom Levine describes as a "10.3 100-meter guy," ended last season on a high with 129 yards and two touchdowns in the finale against Tulane. Farrow and Jackson got a majority of the reps this spring as Sims sat out full-contact practice to get healed up.
Other running backs on the roster include senior Kent Brooks, who converted from safety in the spring; junior Randall Hollimon, and sophomore Justin Hicks. True freshmen Joseph Glenn and Javin Webb begin classes next week.
At least Houston does have some experienced players returning to the position, players with starting experience and game experience. That should help come August. We won't know the true impact of Sims' decision, though, until the season begins.