Charles Sims emerged from the tunnel smoke at Milan Puskar Stadium and more than 50,000 people greeted him, anxious to see the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year make his debut.
"It was just mindblowing," Sims told FOX Sports Southwest this week. "Never seen anything like it."
He didn't disappoint. Sims got a carry on West Virginia's first offensive play of the season and capped the first drive with an 11-yard touchdown. He finished his first game as a Mountaineer with 120 yards. Through three games, Sims is in great position to finish the season as the league's newcomer of the year. He leads the Big 12 in rushing with 293 yards and has more carries (52) than any back in the Big 12.
"He's just consistent and has got great experience. He's played in a bunch of games," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He's a well-rounded player."
Few would know better than Holgorsen. He recruited Sims to Houston out of high school and served as the Cougars' offensive coordinator in 2009, Sims' freshman year. He ran for 698 yards and nine touchdowns that year, but made an even bigger impact in the passing game, catching 70 passes for 759 yards and another score, winning Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors.
Sims missed 2010 for academic reasons, but was granted a redshirt year. He racked up 1,672 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, as well as 88 receptions for 948 yards and seven touchdowns in three years on the field for the Cougars.
In May 2013, he earned a bachelor's degree in health, giving him the ability to transfer without having to sit out a year, per NCAA rules.
After missing most of Houston's final three games of 2012 with an ankle injury, he elected to return to Houston for his senior season, rather than enter the NFL Draft. After spring practice, however, the Houston native decided to chase a new challenge. He elected to transfer to a new school in hopes of playing against better competition and improving his draft stock for 2014.
"He loves the University of Houston, he's got his degree from there, loves the city, obviously, that's all he's ever known. He played a lot of good ball there, won a lot of good games there," Holgorsen said. "Just the opportunity to play in the Big 12 was something he was pretty fired up about."
The timing wasn't ideal. Sims' decision left Houston coach Tony Levine scratching his head and the Cougars program holding a 50,000 bill for an upcoming marketing campaign centered around Sims that included a billboard with his face on it, a source close to the program told FOX Sports Southwest.
Levine placed restrictions on Sims' transfer, preventing him from going to any schools in Texas, any members of the American Athletic Conference or any schools on Houston's future schedule.
As he would with any of his promising former players, Holgorsen had kept an eye Sims' progress. Once contacted, Holgorsen told Sims' high school coach, Keeath Magee, the level of interest for Sims in Morgantown was "tremendous."
Sims knew what kind of coach Holgorsen was and what kind of offense he would be signing up for. He visited West Virginia and shortly after, told Holgorsen he couldn't wait to get started.
"I think he probably struggled with it a little bit because of the respect he has for U of H, but again, the end of the day, you've got to put yourself in the best position possible to advance your career. I think he made a business decision and I think he did it," Holgorsen said. "I wanted to make sure he didn't have one foot in and one foot out."
The best-laid plans of mice and men sometimes go exactly as planned.
"Leading by example, work ethic and being unselfish are three traits that make a good teammate and he did all three," Holgorsen said.
Sims' quiet, understated personality isn't going to produce many locker-room lectures. Questions from the media are met with short, quiet answers. Don't look for any elaborate touchdown celebrations. A good play in practice or a game is usually followed by a smirk and a readiness to get lined up in West Virginia's fast-paced offense.
He's already had a big impact on younger backs like freshman Wendell Smallwood and juco transfer Dreamius Smith.
Smallwood "just does every single thing that Charles does," Holgorsen said.
Several times this season, complementary backs Smith and Sims have been on the field at the same time.
"We'll call a run play and he'll be more than happy to go to the spot in the backfield that he knows dang well's not going to get the ball," Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen named Sims a team captain last week, a rarity in college football for any first-year player, especially first-year players who aren't quarterbacks.
Holgorsen's next plan for Sims?
"We're going to continue getting him the ball as much as we can," he said. "His production will be high if we get him the ball."
Sims has caught just four passes for 48 yards so far this season, which has yet to allow him to show his ability in the passing game. That's where Holgorsen's focus in the future will be on getting Sims increased touches.
"The kid wants to play big-time football and wants to put himself in position to play at the next level," Holgorsen said. "He's been fantastic. He's been tremendous, a blessing to coach. I'm glad he's here and I think he's going to be playing for a long time."