Mike Sims-Walker began his NFL career with about as much fanfare as a third-round pick coming off ACL surgery could have as he dazzled onlookers in his first mini-camp back in 2007. Sims-Walker, then just known as Mike Sims-Walker ran perfect routes, showed strong hands, and made the highlight reel type of plays which left fans dreaming about the former UCF Knight finally giving the Jaguars a legitimate replacement for the great Jimmy Smith.
“The first couple years I had all the attention in the world, I was coming to practice and was one of the best out here,” Sims-Walker said of his early success.
As good as Mike Sims-Walker looked in camps, the talent never seemed to translate when the “bullets were live.” As a rookie, Mike faded as training camp was nearing and end, and his preseason production made many think that he could be one of the “boys of summer.”
His lack of explosion as a rookie showed that Sims-Walker’s knee still wasn’t right and the team decided to place him on injured reserve, ending his season before it began.
“That was tough for me, because I knew I could play at this level,” Sims-Walker said. “I just had to get healthy though.”
Mike was back in his second season and he showed the same type of dynamic ability during the Jaguars camps. Sims-Walker couldn’t put it all together again as he struggled with various injuries, and just when everything seemed to be working out, a personal disaster ensued.
Following a stellar performance on national television against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in which he caught six passes for 107 yards, Mike Sims-Walker re-injured his leg and would miss the next four games. Once he was healthy enough to go again, his best friend was tragically murdered in a drive-by shooting in Orlando, Florida. Following that, Sims-Walker lost his father to colon cancer in December of 2008.
“I never showed up on Sunday, being injury or death or whatever the case may be,” Sims-Walker said of his career prior to last season.
2009 was a new season and a new start for Mike Sims-Walker, and he was intent on becoming the player that the Jaguars believed he could be when they selected him in the 2007 draft.
“I told them before last season that there were no more excuses,” Sims-Walker said of a conversation with his coaching staff. “I didn’t want anyone to make excuses for me so I just went out there with a clear mind and did it.”
Sims-Walker had a breakout season catching 63 passes for 869 yards with seven touchdowns, despite missing one game and not starting in another. Mike had finally begun realizing his potential as a playmaker, and less than mid-way through the season he was the Jaguars number one option on the outside.
The Jaguars talented wide receiver has now gone from student, to teacher for the team’s group of youngsters at the position. Sims-Walker is trying to “pay-it-forward,” as he learned plenty from veteran wide receiver Torry Holt who was on the Jacksonville roster a season ago.
“Torry left us with a lot to build on, a lot to learn off of. I’m here to remind those guys (of what they need to do) and to pick them up.”
So is Sims-Walker a leader by default?
“We have a young team, I’m young myself, it’s only my fourth year. I’ve been here the longest, I know the system. I’m here to help these guys with anything they need. I know a lot of guys are fighting for a job and things are getting scratchy, but we never play the Jags so we’re always here for each other,” a confident Sims-Walker told JagNation.
Sims-Walker had a breakout 2009 campaign, but he’s certainly not settling for his past successes. He knows that one good year could be a fluke, but two is the start of something great.
“This is the over-the-top year for me to prove to myself and to everybody that I can be one of the best receivers in the league. With that said, I’m just trying to be in with the names of Brandon Marshall’s, (Larry) Fitzgerald’s and Andre Johnson’s. I’ll work my butt off until I get to that status,” the former collegiate teammate of Brandon Marshall said.
Mike Sims-Walker has amazing hands, runs fantastic routes and isn’t afraid to make tough catches over the middle of the football field. He has all the tools to be a top wideout in this league, and with his work ethic and perseverance, the sky is truly the limit.
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Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, and also the co-host of CB Sports Radio on ESPN 1420 in St. Augustine, FL. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @nflcharlie