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Blake Sims, Welcome to the CFL

He earned mini-camp tryouts for the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins, but it’s the Canadian Football League that will welcome former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims this fall. According to Aaron Suttles, Alabama football beat writer for Tuscaloosa News, Sims will play the upcoming season with the Toronto Argonauts. The average rookie salary in the CFL is $51k, while the minimum salary as a whole is $81k.

Sims enrolled at Alabama in 2010, and contributed as a running back, wide receiver and quarterback. His defining moment came in the 2014 offseason, when he earned the starting job at quarterback over Florida State transfer Jake Coker. Sims blossomed under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, as he accounted for 3,847 passing yards with 28 scores.

Sims finished third on the team in rushing last season, totaling 350 yards and seven touchdowns on 83 carries. He navigated Alabama through a tough SEC West division, culminating in a conference championship. Sims guided the team to a No.1 overall seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Alabama would lose to Ohio State 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl, despite Sims’s efforts. He participated in the senior bowl, NFL combine and Alabama’s pro day, but was not selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Sims will have to find success above the U.S. border.

Warren Moon, Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia all can identify with Sims.

All three quarterbacks went undrafted out of college, and took either the CFL or the AFL route in getting attention from the National Football League.

Moon guided the Washington Huskies to the 1978 Rose Bowl, and was named most valuable player for his performance. Washington defeated Michigan 27-20, and Moon would spend five seasons with Edmonton Eskimos (1978-83). He became the first quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards in a season (1982). Moon led the Eskimos to five Grey Cup championships (1978-82), and was a two-time Grey Cup MVP in 1980 and 1982. He was enshrined on the Eskimos’ Wall of Fame and inducted in the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in 2001.

Moon entered the NFL in 1984, and spent 16 years in the league. His career started with the Houston Oilers, but Moon played with Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City. He was a 9x Pro Bowl selection (1988-95, 1997), and the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1990.

Moon led the NFL in passing yards twice in 1990 and 1991. His No.1 jersey was retired as a Houston Oiler/Tennessee Titian. Moon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006).

Kurt Warner had the ultimate underdog story. He went undrafted in 1994 from the University of Northern Iowa. Warner had a mini-camp tryout for the Green Bay Packers, but was released from the team before the season started. He was told by quarterbacks coach Steve Mariucci that he had enormous potential, but he just wasn’t ready to be an NFL quarterback yet.

Warner worked at Hy-Vee grocery store ($5.50/hour) and landed a position as a graduate assistant at UNI to try and make ends meet. His dreams of playing in the NFL weren’t getting answered, so Warner turned to the Arena Football League in 1995.

Warner signed with the Iowa Barnstormers, and was named to the AFL’s first-team All-Arena in 1996 and 1997. He led the Barnstormers to Arena Bowl appearances in both seasons. Warner was inducted into the Barnstormers Hall of Fame and the AFL Hall of Fame in 2011.

A spider bite on his throwing elbow kept him from attending a workout with the Chicago Bears in 1997, but Warner would get his chance on a team that needed him, the St. Louis Rams.

In 1999, Warner was named the starting quarterback for the Rams. He had a talented support cast, headlined by running back Marshall Faulk and wide receivers Issac Bruce and Torry Holt. St. Louis’s offense was nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf,” as was it orchestrated by head coach Dick Vermeil and offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Warner was stellar in 1997, as he threw for 4,353 yards with 41 touchdown passes on a completion rating of 65.1 percent.

Warner was named NFL MVP in 1999, and led the Rams to the playoffs. St. Louis punched its ticket to Super Bowl XXXIV (34) and faced the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 30, 2000. Warner recorded 414 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a 73-yard strike to Issac Bruce.

St. Louis defeated Tennessee 23-16, and Warner was named Super Bowl MVP. He became the seventh player in history to win both league and Super Bowl MVP honors in the same year.

Warner spent 12 seasons in the NFL from 1998-09. He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times (1999-01, 2008), and was a three-time NFC Conference champion (1999, 2001, 2008).

Jeff Garcia was considered “too small” in the 1994 NFL Draft. Garcia, who stood at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, took to the CFL after going undrafted out of San Jose State University.

He saw action in five seasons with the Calgary Stampeders from 1994-98, and was a four-time West Division All-Star (1995-98). Garcia captained the Stampeders to a Grey Cup championship in 1998, and was named MVP for his efforts. He would spend 11 seasons in the NFL (1999-09), playing for San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Houston. Garcia, 45, is currently a quarterbacks coach for the Montreal Alouettes (CFL).

Garcia was named to four Pro Bowls (2000-02, 2007), and won most improved player of the year from the Pro Football Writers of America Association in 2000.

Hard work and good character created positive results for Blake Sims at Alabama. The NFL’s loss in Sims could be the CFL’s gain. He has an opportunity to continue playing the game he loves. It will be his attitude toward the situation that may determine his success.

 

Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

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