football team, the phrase is as literal as it is figurative. The 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl MVP, Sims was the 77th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2008 NFL draft, establishing himself as a hard-hitting tackle on one of the league’s most brutal defenses.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition from college to the NFL,” said Sims. “It was smooth because playing in the SEC, it’s pretty much like the NFL. It’s a bit more physical in the NFL than it is in the SEC, but when it comes to speed, it’s pretty much the same.”
For Sims, now in his tenth season in the NFL, the game slows down. Reading rival players and coaches has become
second nature. He credits his long career in the league to his commitment to the craft. “As easy as it is to make it into the NFL, it can be taken away,” he said.
He is a mentor to incoming rookies and tells them the way to succeed is to become a student of the game. That, and always be yourself.
“I tell ‘em when they come in, ‘just be yourself,’ you feel me? Everything else will take care of itself. Do the same thing that got you here, just build on top of what you already are and become better at your craft. And one thing you gotta do, you gotta know your playbook,” said Sims.
C.J. Uzomah knows a thing or two about the playbook. A tight end playing his third season since being acquired in the 2015 draft, he says the biggest adjustments he’s made to his game aren’t on the field, but off it.
“Definitely the playbook, just the terminology, the length of the plays,” said Uzomah. “The special teams’ playbook is pretty lengthy as well and it’s not something I had to do a whole lot when I was at Auburn. I guess also the huddle, because at Auburn we didn’t huddle.”
Uzomah recalls walking into the Bengals locker room his rookie season and seeing then-teammate Terrelle Pryor, a former quarterback-turned-receiver like himself. He was starstruck.
“I remember thinking ‘wow, I grew up playing quarterback in high school and Terrelle Pryor was a guy I wanted to emulate,” he said. “It’s surreal in a way, you’re thinking ‘Wow, they’re the caliber of player I wanted to be and now I’m here with them!’”
Uzomah’s family was there when he caught his first NFL catch in a game at the Cleveland Browns in 2015, a moment he says he’ll never forget. But his first touchdown, against their division-rival Baltimore Ravens in 2017?
“Oh man, I was so pumped,” said Uzomah.
One of the most fertile football schools in the country, there is never a shortage of Auburn players in the NFL. The 2017 season alone features 30 players on 19 different teams, with another six signed to teams’ practice squads.
Uzomah said they say ‘hey’ to every one of them whenever they get the chance.
“Every time we see one of our Auburn brothers, regardless of what side of the ball they’re on or what year they graduated, we always make a conscious effort to go up, say hey, see how they’re doing,” said Uzomah.
“We’re Auburn Strong in the NFL.”
by Derek Herscovici ’14