It’s no secret that Jeff Sims-coached teams love to run the football.
Take last season as an example. As Sims led Garden City Community College to a 10-1 campaign and a trip to the NJCAA championship game, the Broncbusters led the league in rushing yards (3,242) and rushing attempts (666) while boasting the nation’s top individual rusher in Charles West (1,492 yards).
From an even broader standpoint, Sims had Garden City ranked top-13 or better in the NJCAA in both rushing yards and attempts in each of the last three seasons.
Think the first-year Missouri Southern head coach will shy away from the ground-and-pound style now that he’s taken over the MIAA’s least productive offense from last season? Think again.
“We like to run the football because we believe football is a physical game, and it’s a lot easier to turn around and hand it to a great player than it is to throw it to a great player,” Sims said prior to the Lions’ first practice of the season on Friday at Fred G. Hughes Stadium. “But to do that, you have to have talent and you have to have competition.”
And competition is one thing Southern doesn’t lack in its offensive backfield in the early stages of its fall camp. There are currently 10 running backs listed on the roster. Two of them saw significant time on the playing field for MSSU last season, and another is the aforementioned West, who has followed his former Garden City coach to Joplin.
“I always tell people it’s good to have depth,” Sims said.
West, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior from Coppel, Texas, averaged 149.2 yards per game and tallied nine touchdowns on the ground for Garden City in 2018. Meanwhile, Dalton James, at 6-foot, 200 pounds, was the second-most used running back in the MIAA as he registered 739 yards on 195 attempts for MSSU.
Shemar Coleman, a 5-11, 190-pound redshirt junior, split time at running back and wide receiver last year with MSSU, finishing with 140 rush yards off 44 carries. He also saw action in seven games at fullback as a redshirt freshman in 2017, totaling 187 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
The Lions’ group of running backs also includes junior Garden City transfer Josh Mercer, sophomore Houston Baptist transfer James Brown III as well as true freshmen Micah Burkholder — a McDonald County product — Sean Brown-Nixon, Dominee Daniels, Javian Myles and Sam Sanderson.
“It’s a situation where if one guy goes down, the other can step up,” Sims said. “You’d be amazed that whenever those guys are competing against one another and they work hard, everybody raises their game to another level. So we’re excited about the guys that we have.”
To help direct the Southern offense, Sims has hired offensive coordinator Marty Higgins. Higgins spent the last two years as the offensive coordinator at Northern Michigan where he developed the first 1,500-yard rusher in school history and helped the offense set numerous program records in 2018 while being ranked 17th nationally in Division II.
Filling out the rest of Sims’ offensive staff is line coach John Powers, running backs coach Keiki Misipeka and tight ends coach Tom Leogrande — all first-year coaches at MSSU who at one point coached under Sims at Garden City.