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Blake Sims and Jake Coker: Bigger than the Test

Two quarterbacks lie at the University of Alabama. They contrast in size, classification and potential, but carry the same competitive spirit. Like grace and mercy, patience and destiny intertwine. Destiny takes a time to fulfill, but patience is destined for something.

Both have their advantages, but let’s begin with patience.

Patience’s Journey
Atlanta, Ga.
It’s the birthplace of Martin Luther King, crunk music, Atlanta Falcons and strip clubs. 54.4 miles away laid Gainesville, patience’s hometown. He was a four-star athlete that electrified fans at Gainesville High School. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy were marquee names, but it didn’t stop Blake Sims from choosing Alabama.
He’s a quarterback now, but Sims’s career started in the backfield. He appeared in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Sims had 22 carries for 107 yards.

He displayed mobility, but would he have an arm? This question would seldom be answered in 2012. Sims saw action in 10 games as a backup quarterback. He relied heavily on his legs, but Sims showed signs of being a decent passer. He rushed for 187 yards with two scores and tossed for 77 yards.

Sims posted a 133.2 quarterback rating and recorded two passing touchdowns in 2013. The junior was a member of three national title teams and was building chemistry within the program. Everything was looking up. AJ McCarron was leaving. Sims would finally get his chance to shine under center. At least it appeared that way. A preconceived thought before the trials came in.

Alabama’s 2013 Spring Game
Who’s the best fit at quarterback for Alabama? Sports writers pondered over the question as the Crimson Tide was in spring practice. Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and others were all throwing tight spirals. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Finding Alabama’s next signal caller takes more than watching practices.

Sat. April 19, 2014.
The stage was set as fans from around the state piled into Bryant-Denny Stadium. Receivers looked nice, a lock down corner would be good; a solid kicker would mean heaven on earth, even a decent defensive line would suffice, but Alabama wanted a quarterback.

It was like watching a horror film in slow motion as Sims took the field. He wanted to succeed. It was his time to shine. Maybe the sun was too bright? It was probably the fans staring at him too much. Regardless of the issue, Sims just wasn’t ready. He cracked. A 43 percent completion clip isn’t sexy on A-Day. Two interceptions add more insult to injury.

Excuses came from everywhere. Alabama didn’t use its entire playbook. Sims wasn’t used to his fullest extent. Tide fans didn’t want to hear it. Some had enough of Sims. The comments of fans ranged from Sims can’t throw to Alabama won’t win a national title with Blake Sims as the starting quarterback.

Comments like these would make the average high school quarterback cry in his mother’s arms. It’s amazing how one would remain in a program after so much ridicule. The tunnel looked dark for patience. Was his time running out? Did he ruin his chance? Would destiny take over?

Destiny’s Path
Destiny’s journey mirrored the likes of a former great Alabama quarterback.
AJ McCarron was a three-time national champion. He’s about wearing rings and married A-list starlet Katherine Webb, but McCarron was pulling triggers at Saint Paul’s Episcopal High School before the glamor. McCarron guided the Saints to 5A State Championship.

Unlike McCarron, destiny was a two-sport athlete. Jacob Coker was calling signals and nailing jumpers. He led Saint Paul’s to playoff appearances in both venues. McCarron’s path led him to Tuscaloosa, Ala., while Coker’s path landed in Tallahassee, Fla.

Chris Ward, Danny Kanell and Chris Weinke. These were the role models for Coker. They weren’t just satisfied with winning. Immortality was their target goal. Invincibility is great, but Coker wanted to be on the field first. He held a clipboard behind E.J. Manuel in 2012.

It’s not Hoover, but Hueytown produces athletes. A war set off in the summer of 2013. Freshman Jameis Winston battled with Coker. Both players were leaders. Both guys had strong arms. The gladiators flexed arm talent until the first game of the season. Florida State wanted Coker. Jimbo Fisher loved Coker, but Winston was the chosen one.

It was back to the sideline for destiny. He watched Winston pass and run his way to a Heisman Trophy. He witnessed Florida State win a national title. Coker watched, but watching doesn’t cut it. No one likes to lose, especially to a freshman. However, it happened.

Coker went 21/41 passing for 295 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He could have had more. Coker would have done more. The Seminoles were sold on Winston and in November Coker was sidelined for the rest of 2013 with a knee injury.

Coker to Alabama
Alabama is always an object of conversation. Win or lose, people talk about Alabama football. The Crimson Tide loss its final two games of the season in 2013, but it was the envy of college football in the offseason.

Nick Saban can recruit. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. He snags players from Louisiana to Auburn. Alabama brought in the No.1 recruiting class in 2014.

The class already had one potent quarterback, but excitement built on another player that would join the Tide.
If there was ever a moment to pull a LeBron James move; it would be when an individual knows it’s time to move on. Coker wasn’t going to beat out Winston. His time was running out anyway. Coker signed his transfer waiver and autographed his letter of intent for Alabama.

Was it Christmas in the summer? If not, it truly felt like it. Alabama fans were high off anticipation as Coker landed in Tuscaloosa in May. Reporters were jumping at the bit. It was finally their chance to see if Coker’s worth the advertising. Taste buds were whet when footage of Coker’s highlight tapes from high school, Florida State and summer workouts were released.

The junior hadn’t played a down of Crimson Tide football, yet he was immediately tabbed as McCarron’s successor. Phone calls swirled into radio stations as Alabama fans penciled in plans for multiple national titles. Neither jersey on his back nor football in his hands, but ESPN proclaimed Heisman, Davey O’Brien and a host of other awards for Coker.

Instant gratification is worthless. It’s a different league going from Florida State to Alabama. It’s a different demand going from Jimbo Fisher to Nick Saban.

Alabama Expectations on Coker
Alabama fans have been spoiled with championships and superb recruiting since 1925. Paul Bryant enhanced the program, but Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas built it.

Players that come to Alabama are expected to enter with a high ceiling. Some quarterbacks don’t come in highly-rated. Those are ones that work twice as hard. Greg McElroy entered as a three-star prospect, but he defied all odds and won a national title in 2009.

Some expected Coker to come in and dominate. They want him to be the next Namath, Stabler, Lewis, Trammell, Barker or McCarron. With Coker grabbing headlines, what happens to patience? Does Blake Sims get another chance?

Spring/Summer 2014
Have a drink. Go party. Have fun. It’s time to “turn up.” All of these are typical phrases of college students in the 21st century. Can you blame them? No. They’ve worked hard all semester maintaining grades. They deserve to have fun.
Blake Sims would enjoy a drink. He probably would have attended a party, but Sims chose football over pleasure. His desire was to prove all doubters wrong. Sims goes to Florida and attends quarterback camps with a private coach.

Tighter spirals, fluent footwork, balance in the pocket. Thoughts raced through Sims’s mind as he focused solely on improving. It was his time. Sims wants to lead Alabama to a national title.

Fall Practice and Scrimmage Games
Let the wheat and the tear grow together. The Lord will separate them. It’s funny how the Bible correlates with football. Destiny and patience battled in fall practice. It was a series of accurate passes, strong footwork, confidence dripping and crisp decision making.

Coker’s the man. Coker is our guy. The media wanted to believe it. They forced themselves to believe it.
Tighter spirals, fluent footwork, laser-eye confidence. It’s what Sims has worked on. He’s done it in practice. Sims did it in the offseason. He was trying to convey it on the field.

Nothing ticks off Mother Nature more than an Alabama scrimmage. Fans fled Bryant-Denny Stadium as lightning flashed across the sky. Saban and company remained on the field. This is how “The Process” starts. This is how Saban wanted it.

Media members filed into Mal Moore facility. They were ready to crown Coker as king. A very drenched Saban took the podium.

“I think it would be unfair to either player to really evaluate any kind of passing statistics based on today,” Saban said. “I think both guys did a lot of good things. I think they both have some things they wish they had back.”

One could hear a pin drop in the room. Media was shocked as Saban didn’t release quarterback stats. Reporters tried to understand, but they wanted information.

Mother Nature and Father Time resumed speaking terms the following week. Sunshine was provided and Alabama had its second scrimmage.

Maybe this is the week? Coker has to have it now? More thoughts raced as analyst were anxious for results. Saban, as a young Stephen King, kept reporters on edge. He sent them packing in disappointment. It was the Tide’s second scrimmage, yet a quarterback wasn’t revealed.

It’s a glorified practice. That’s all a scrimmage is. It’s a game-like situation, but not an actual game. Saban wanted zero distractions as he prepared his scheme to reveal a game ready quarterback.

Football Time
Aug. 30, 2014.
Tents were pitched, music blasting and good barbecue. Colors outside of crimson, white, blue and yellow were uninvited to the party. Atlanta was ready. The Georgia Dome was at a fever pitch as a new era of college football got underway.

Alabama vs. West Virginia was the matchup, but Jake Coker versus Blake Sims was the headline. It was twilight saga all over again. Crimson Tide fans used Twitter as its battle ground.

Sims was praised for every good play, but chants of Coker emerged on each questionable decision. It was a back and forth race, but patience kept the car in line. Alabama led 20-17 at halftime.

The second half provided much of the same. Fans pleaded for destiny, but patience stood the course. Alabama defeated West Virginia 33-23. Sims tossed for 250 yards and 72.7 percent of his passes.

“My confidence is growing because of the teammates and coaches that are behind me,” Sims said.

Florida Atlantic was next on the schedule. Fans and analysts wanted Coker, but Saban started Sims. It was another chance to prove doubters wrong. It was another opportunity for Sims to display his growth.

The passes were short, but receivers made plays in space. Lane Kiffin’s offense is about getting playmakers the ball. Sims did that. People said he couldn’t throw. Sims recorded 464 yards in two games.

Coker didn’t play much against West Virginia, but Bryant-Denny Stadium erupted when he took the field against Florida Atlantic. Tweets of “Coker’s in” raced through social media. It had been 10 months since Coker seen game time situations, but fans wanted destiny.

He started slow, but the coveted arm talent was there. Coker’s knee kept him from being on the field at Florida State, but he ran the ball for Alabama. A 3/7 start passing against Florida Atlantic isn’t ideal. It’s Florida Atlantic. Coker’s a 6’5” quarterback. He should be tearing them apart.

Coker should be, but the system differs from Florida State to Alabama. Calling plays is an art form. Maintaining control is the difference between starting at quarterback at warming the bench. The Crimson Tide runs a complex system. The program is built like an NFL program.

It takes time to build success at Alabama. Nothing is guaranteed overnight. Coker gathered himself in the second half. Fans notice the fluent footwork. Coaches eyed his ability to scan the field. Coker’s deep passes began to drop in smoothly. A standing ovation was given after Coker recorded his first career touchdown pass for Alabama, a 3-yard hook up with Jalston Fowler.

Everyone was excited. Sims was the first to greet Coker with a hug and encouragement. Alabama defeated Florida Atlantic 41-0. Fans wanted destiny to take over. Destiny was just happy to be back on the field.
“It was just real fun to be out there,” Coker said. “I was able to sling it around a little bit. It’s just been too long.”

Sims and Coker together have made Alabama’s offense shine. The Crimson Tide has recorded 880 passing yards, averaging 298.0 yards per game. People pit the two against each other. The crystal ball has both embracing.

“You are going to get a bomb, man,” Sims said. “Just pull the cannon out of your pocket and let it loose, man.”

Blake Sims said these words to Coker in the matchup against the Owls. Coker took heed and played through his nerves.

Competition breeds winners, but chemistry births champions. Sims and Coker haven’t paid any attention to the competition.

“Whoever’s number is called, go out there, do your best, and win the game for the team,” Sims said.
It more than hugs, Sims and Coker build each other up in words.

After the hug fest against Florida Atlantic, Sims said he’s glad that Coker is at Alabama.

“I love Jacob with all my heart,” Sims said. “I’ll do anything for him. He has strengths were my weaknesses are and I have strengths were his weaknesses can be. We’re a team.”

It’s week four of the season, yet this team already has better chemistry than last year’s team. It starts with both quarterbacks. Sims and Coker both want to win. It doesn’t matter who is under center.
Destiny takes time to fulfill.

Patience has a destiny, but it has to find what it is. Could it be possible that Coker needs Sims? Is it true that Sims needs Coker? Yes. Both players need each other. Sims has the experience. Coker has the talent. Together, they can deliver Alabama to a special season.

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