Landon Sims had to adjust quickly last Friday in the South Forsyth football team’s season opener at Sprayberry.
The injury-related absence of senior captain Jack Pehrson put Sims in a leading role earlier than expected. Much of the mental work was already done, as Sims was playing in the same defense he’d been in since his sophomore year, and he had five tackles and an interception from his customary safety spot in the War Eagles’ 26-6 win. Sims stayed in for most of the game, despite South’s coaches regularly asking if he needed to come out.
Towards the end, it was obvious why they were asking.
“He was dead tired,” War Eagles head coach Jeff Arnette said with a laugh.
Despite the season being fully underway, Sims is still working his way into football shape. South is fine with that, because his situation is a particularly rare one: He’s one of the best high school baseball players in the country, with a serious chance to be picked in the early rounds of the MLB Draft next spring. That status comes with serious time commitment, particularly during the summer showcase season, and it conflicts with football.
Sims has made the uncommon decision to stick with that sport, though, and the War Eagles are thrilled to have his skill and experience.
“That’s really the only role I’ve played, is just being understanding of all he’s going through,” Arnette said. “The boy loves football, as you see.”
There are a few reasons Sims is still out on the gridiron, despite baseball being his future in college and potentially in the pros: He’s played football since he’s six, and he isn’t going to in college, so he might as well take advantage of this last opportunity; he’s been a part of the varsity program for three years and has grown particularly close with his teammates and coaches; and football still gives him a unique feeling before games, a sort of excited anxiety that he doesn’t get before making a start in baseball.
“I get really nervous before football games, and I tend to not get nervous before baseball games,” Sims said. “Which is kind of weird – I don’t know why.”
He’s faced pressure to give up football, though. Sims’ summer coaches wanted him to specialize in baseball and do focused training for that sport, aimed at increasing his shoulder strength and velocity. Sims is bypassing multiple events that could raise his profile and get him in front of more evaluators.
That certainly isn’t to say that Sims got nothing out of this summer. He started out somewhat slowly, playing both ways for his Team Elite Prime squad, but once Sims started to focus solely on pitching, he saw the desired results. He hit a high of 97 mph, one of his main goals for the summer, at multiple events.
Like Forsyth Central’s Ethan Hankins and Lambert’s Seth Beer, who both wound up being first-round draft picks, Sims earned a spot in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego, where he threw 2/3 of an inning and recorded a strikeout. He met multiple fellow football players at that event: players like Maurice Hampton and Jerrion Ealy, who have committed to play football in the SEC, and others like Sims, who just wanted to finish out their high school careers.
Juggling two sports has required Sims to make sacrifices in both. He didn’t get out to any football workouts this summer, and he didn’t get to the team’s photoshoot, in its new Nike uniforms. Heading into the Sprayberry game, Sims had only gone through a practice that Wednesday and a walkthrough on Thursday. On Friday, his in-progress adjustments were still visible.
“I think he got better as the game went on,” Arnette said. “He was getting used to football each quarter that he played.”
If Sims doesn’t go pro after high school, he’ll head to play baseball at powerhouse Mississippi State. Sims made that decision particularly early, before his sophomore season had even started, and he’s had to deal with the departure of Andy Cannizaro, the coach that recruited him.
The Bulldogs’ regime change – they ended up hiring Chris Lemonis, a renowned recruiter as an assistant at Louisville and head coach at Indiana – forced Sims to think more about his college plans, but he’s still set on his first choice.
“My gut kind of went with Mississippi State,” Sims said. “And I like to trust my gut a majority of the time.”
He used a similar process in deciding to stay with football for his senior season. When Sims was in San Diego, he noticed a common feeling among the players he talked to that had given up football: regret. That just affirmed Sims’ decision, even with outside pressures telling him to step away.
“It was a hard decision to not go all in on all the baseball stuff this summer,” Sims said. “But I think it was a decision that will benefit me in the end.”