EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State tight end Dion Sims can make the clutch catch in a variety of ways.
He's a big acrobat with soft hands and uses his basketball talent to post up defensive backs on sideline routes. Hes also a good blocker who, at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, can lay some lumber on defenders.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio calls the junior from Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Marys a big-play receiver, and Sims 24 catches and 313 yards rank second among major-college tight ends. Only Arizona States Chris Coyle, with 26 grabs for 338 yards, ranks ahead of Sims.
Dion is a tremendous football player with great skills that can be used as situations present themselves, Dantonio said. And he will continue to get better and grow.
Sims is on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, awarded annually to the top tight end in college football.
Thats an honor just to be on that list, Sims said. I have to play up to my ability. I have an opportunity to win this award, and an opportunity to be a great player.
Sims nearly wasted that opportunity in 2010, when he pleaded guilty to a one count felony for receiving and concealing laptops stolen from several Detroit Public Schools. He was sentenced to one year of probation and 15 hours of community service.
Dantonio suspended him for the season.
Im glad I had the opportunity to come back, said Sims, and I thank Coach Dantonio and the coaching staff for giving me a second chance. I just thank God for pulling me through the situation. It was a test of my character.
It was hard not going to war with my teammates, and I felt I let the team down.
Sims was redshirted that season but returned in 2011 to back up Brian Linthicum. Sims finished with 12 catches for 99 yards and three touchdowns, despite playing nearly half the games with a soft cast on his left hand.
It happened in practice after the Nebraska game, Sims said. My left hand just popped on me, but I taped it up and kept practicing. But after practice, it turned purple and was swollen up. There was a break.
His first three years in East Lansing were about overcoming, adapting and transforming. Sims played tailback, quarterback and receiver before finally becoming a tight end as a high school senior, He's put on more than 60 pounds in college.
Sims has skill-position-player abilities with the size of a bruiser. Thats a dream combination for a tight end.
His six catches for 112 yards and one touchdown sparked a comeback win over Eastern Michigan last month and served notice of things to come. States next game is at noon Saturday at Indiana.
He has soft hands, Spartans wide receiver Bennie Fowler said. He has great route-running abilities. He makes big plays.
Sims has become the go-to receiver for quarterback Andrew Maxwell, whose wideouts have dropped too many passes in the early going.
Fowler added, Hes going to take a lot off of the receivers. He opens up a lot of things.
Sims finished fourth in the states Mr. Basketball Award as a small forward for the Eaglets, and averaged 21.9 points and 9.4 rebounds as a senior.
He visited MSU and Ohio State in both sports, and made football visits to Iowa, SMU and Miami (Fla.).
Ohio State had real nice facilities, and I knew some guys there because they had three of my high school teammates -- Taurian Washington, Aaron Gant and Dionte Allen, Sims said. I also had (MSU basketball guard) Kalin Lucas here.
"But in the end I just thought this was the best place for me. Its a great school.
Sims played in one basketball game, as a freshman, but decided to focus on football.
I just felt like my upside was better in football, he said. I talked with Coach Dantonio and thought it was in my best interest to stick with football.
After clearing several hurdles, including the one he placed for himself, Sims has become a valued starter with a clear focus.
I know (quarterback Andrew) Maxwells going to look my way, Sims said, and I just have to make plays. What defenses are doing is trying to keep me from getting off the ball (with jams). Thats something Im working on a lot.
"Its a matter of footwork, strength and urgency. Im also working on being more of a leader vocally.
I need a lot of improvement -- especially in my blocking. But, oh, yeah, Im definitely ready to be featured. When my numbers called upon, its time to produce.