Safety David Sims remembers when it hit him. It was April 2006 – it had to be, since that's when he was still working at Sam's Club.
"I have to go somewhere," he recalled saying to himself back then.
Sims was a talented athlete at Gainesville (Fla.) High School with dreams of playing in the NFL. But after he failed to catch on with a four-year school, Sims bucked at the chance to play at a junior college. Instead, he found himself jobless and living at home. He picked up odd jobs here and there - he was a garbage man, he folded linens for the University of Florida; he worked at a temp agency.
But that April, Sims decided he'd had enough. He realized that if he wanted to achieve his dream, he'd have to do it in small steps. And the first was to earn a spot on a team anywhere he could.
He started with Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif.
If the name sounds familiar, it may be because it was also where guard Danny Watkins first played organized football. Sims played running back there. Watkins blocked for him.
Sims switched to safety while at Butte and soon transferred to Iowa State, where he was named the 2009 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2009. But after a successful college career, Sims hit another speed bump. Teams felt his 5-9 frame was too small to tangle with NFL receivers and he went undrafted. Sims was in Training Camp with the Giants and was on the Buccaneers' active roster for one week in 2011, but never really caught on.
Getting to the NFL was the realization of a dream. But it didn't take long to find out just how hard he'd need to work to stick around.
"When I was with the Giants and I got cut, it kind of put a heartache on me, because they made me doubt my ability to play," Sims said Monday. "So I had to go, basically, back to the drawing board and work 10 times harder than I was already (working) so I wouldn't be put in a situation like that again if I had the opportunity. It made me open my eyes (and) made me want to work harder than I was already working. That's all."
Sims signed with the Browns and spent the final five weeks of last season on their practice squad. He re-signed with the Browns in the offseason. Smith turned heads this preseason, even recording an interception against Trent Edwards that he returned for a touchdown – until a penalty brought it back.
After spending the summer battling for the third safety spot in Cleveland, Sims felt confident going into last Friday's final roster cutdown. But once again, things weren't that easy. The Browns informed Sims that he would be released, and for hours he could only wonder what he'd done to be cut.
But the news got better. Instead of being cut, he learned that he had instead been traded to the Eagles. In a matter of hours he went from a man without a job to a member of the Eagles' 53-man roster.
Sims figures his big game had something to do with the Eagles' interest.
"I've heard they've been doing some scouting on me," Sims said. "But I didn't know, really, until I got a phone call, how much."
With a spot on the 53-man active roster, Sims gets a shot at his old team Sunday afternoon when the Eagles open the season in Cleveland. And if he stays with the team all year, he'll also get a chance to see his other two former teams.
"I just think of it as a new journey," Sims said of facing the Browns. "It's opening up new doors for me. It's weird, but it's not weird in the sense that I'm just moving forward and not trying to look back."
But perhaps just as exciting is the realization that he now plays for a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
"It's very exciting because you play (in the) National Football League to get … a Super Bowl," Sims said. "With a team like this, it's a great team, a great organization, so it's really great to be in the situation that I'm in."
Reaching the NFL and making the 53-man roster is the realization of a dream years in the making. But for every player in his position, Sims said, there are thousands sitting at home, wondering what went wrong. He vows not to be one of them again.
"I think about it every day, because I'm very thankful to be in the position that I am now," Sims said. "Every guy doesn't have the mindset that I had coming up the last six, seven years.
"I was determined to get here. You have to have that strong mindset."
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