Grades. Effort. Work ethic. The swallowing potholes to so many once promising athletic dreams.
"I know a couple guys back home who were real good athletes in high school," the new Eagles safety was saying Monday after practice, "but they didn't get a scholarship, so they sat at home instead of going to a junior college like I did. Instead of getting help for the grades. Everybody knows those guys. Like the guys back home who hear about my journey. They sit back and think about their situation and say, 'That could have been me.' "
Truth is, Sims could have been one of those guys. Hell, he was one of those guys. Back in 2005, denied a scholarship to the University of Florida after an ACL tear, Sims went to work in his native Gainesville because he felt he was too good to play in junior college.
Here's what changed that: A stint on a garbage truck, followed by a job at Sam's Club and finally the ultimate indignity - folding laundry at the same university he planned to star for.
"It's a journey and steps," he said. "Not everyone had the mindset that I've had to have over the last 6, 7 years. I was determined to get here. And you have to have that mindset. Because junior college is a struggle. There's no one on you to get your grades like there is in universities. It's on you totally."
Sims accepted an offer to play at Butte Junior College in California the next year, eventually welcomed Eagles tackle Danny Watkins as a teammate in his second year. Originally a running back, he switched to defensive back because of a glut of talent at the position, and because he was, well, a better defensive back.
Two years of Butte got him 2 years at Iowa State, where despite his size - he's 5-9 - he played himself onto the grid sheets of pro scouts as the Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year.
He also sabotaged any chance of being drafted as well when he was charged with a misdemeanor for "unauthorized use of a credit card" as a senior.
One step up. Two steps back.
It could be the title to his autobiography, at least to this point.
Despite attracting attention at the NFL combines, Sims went undrafted and signed a free-agent contract with the Giants. A victim of their final cut, he took the $5,000 he earned from that and waited for another team to call. Tampa Bay signed him for a week midseason. The Browns called in November and added him to their practice squad for the remainder of the season.
The sum of those checks were barely more than the $14,000 he earned for his 1 week as a professional football player. Still, the struggling Browns seemed to offer the best hope for the coming season, and right up until he was cut last Friday morning, he thought he had done enough to make the team in some capacity. He had two interceptions and a third called back on that roughing the passer penalty in the game against the Eagles.
Just a few days before he was traded to the Eagles last Friday for an undisclosed draft pick, Browns coach Pat Shurmur - the former Eagles quarterback coach - said this about Sims:
"I think he's flashed for the coaches. He's challenging. He's physical, and he's really made a huge amount of progress in the time that we've been together . . . He's got to flash, and he's got to make plays. To his credit, he's done that."
Now here's Sims after his first practice as an Eagle on Monday: "I worked so hard in the offseason so I wouldn't be put in the position I was with the Giants. So that's why I was out there grinding it, trying to make every play possible. And when they called me to tell me I was [let go] I was like, 'What more could I have done?' "
The answer, of course, is play in a real game. Make a play in a real game. Be an asset and not a liability in a real game.
Seven years into his post-high school odyssey, Sims still salivates for that opportunity.
It's not exactly how he imagined it was going to turn out back then.
But it still beats the hell out of picking up people's garbage.
Contact Sam Donnellon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.