By JOHN RABY
West Virginia running back Charles Sims needs no more motivation to help get the Mountaineers a step closer to becoming bowl eligible than what’s in front of him — a night game in front of a raucous home crowd against his home-state Texas Longhorns.
The senior has been a steady influence in a season of ups and downs for West Virginia’s offense, a consistent ball carrier who’s just as deft at turning a short pass into a solid gain.
The Houston native leads the Mountaineers (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) with 754 yards rushing and is a close second in team receptions heading into Saturday night’s matchup against Texas (6-2, 5-0).
“Oh I’ve always wanted to play Texas, man,” Sims said. “Growing up as a kid, that’s all you heard about was Texas, so I always wanted to play them guys.”
Sims graduated from the University of Houston in May with a health degree and was available to transfer and play immediately. Texas coach Mack Brown said he didn’t talk to Sims about coming to Austin because the Longhorns already had several running backs and he knew Sims would want a significant role.
The easy choice was West Virginia — coach Dana Holgorsen was Houston’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2008 and 2009.
Sims certainly had the chance to be the focal point of the Mountaineers’ offense. The prospects for the season looked grim after the graduations of quarterback Geno Smith and record-setting wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. They got bleaker when running back Andrew Buie, who led West Virginia with 851 yards rushing in 2012, withdrew from school just days before the season opener.
Sims quieted some of those concerns with two 100-yard rushing efforts in his first three games and he hasn’t slowed down. He ran for a season-high 154 yards last week in a 30-27 overtime win at TCU, including a 31-yard touchdown run and a 13-yard scoring catch from Clint Trickett.
Sims has the chance to become West Virginia’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Noel Devine in 2009. His career best was 851 yards last season.
But what’s caught everyone’s attention are his receiving skills.
Sims has three games with at least seven receptions. His 36 receptions are one behind wide receiver Daikiel Shorts for the team lead. Sims could become the first running back to lead the Mountaineers in receptions since Tom Gray had 26 in 1985.
It’s something Sims has been doing since his freshman season at Houston in 2009, when he caught 70 passes for 759 yards, both career bests.
“He is fast,” Brown said. “He is a power runner, but he is also good out of the backfield. We think he is a very good pro prospect at running back.”
Texas is well aware of West Virginia’s ability to run the ball. Buie rushed for 207 yards in West Virginia’s 48-45 win over the Longhorns last year, and the 213-pound Sims said in order to run well this year against Texas, it will come down to brute strength.
“You want to be more physical than the other team,” he said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere, night game. It’s my first night game. Got a great team coming in to Morgantown. Should be a good game.”
The media-shy Sims isn’t the most talkative player with anyone — Holgorsen said Sims is “petrified” whenever he has to give a presentation in class.
It’s Sims’ work ethic that has others talking. For instance, Holgorsen said freshman running back Wendell Smallwood “does everything Charles does.”
“His attitude is so good,” Holgorsen said of Sims. “The way he approaches every day in the weight room, in the film room and the practice field. Just playing with as much effort as he possibly can. Yes, that is rubbing off on a lot of the guys on our entire team”
. You see defensive guys pointing it out. He is a special player, a special kid. I’m glad he’s here. It’s worked out for everybody involved.”