Zebras’ Sims set for kickoff

Senior Walt Sims, a Zebras linebacker, also kicks and punts, and uplifts his team when they need it most. (Special to The Commercial/Micheal Williams)

Walter Sims is ready to kick off the Zebras' homecoming game.

The Pine Bluff High School senior and his teammates host the Beebe Badgers (4-1, 2-1, 5A Central) at 7 tonight in Jordan Stadium.

As a linebacker, Sims also kicks and punts.

He recently punted the ball at a key moment against Maumelle last week. That punt turned the game around for the Zebras, Coach Micheal Williams said. The Zebras (3-1, 2-1) beat the Maumelle Hornets 26-0.

"He had a great punt that flipped the field for us," Williams said. "Walt kicks the ball off for us, too, and he has had a 64-yard punt. More than that, he uplifts the team and gets us hyped."

Growing up in Pine Bluff, Sims (5-feet-8 and 165 pounds) started playing football as a kid. He played with the Zebras last year, but he got very little game time. Williams said Sims was overlooked and not given a chance.

"Walt felt like he never had a chance," Williams said. "He felt like he was a nobody. I don't have favorites. Everyone has an opportunity here. You can have players that look the part and you can get a 2-7 season. I'm looking for that kid with heart."

Sims definitely has that.

Sitting in Williams' office, Sims is beyond proud to be part of "Zebra Nation" and he counts his teammates as "brothers and family." His whole life Sims has had major responsibility, being the man of the house for his single mom and four sisters.

Coming from a one-parent home wasn't always easy, especially because he didn't have a male role model to mentor him.

That has changed. Williams has become a father figure.

"I didn't have a father figure at home," Sims said. "Coach pushes me hard. I like him for that. He's fun, but he can be serious."

This season, Sims has turned his life around, thanks to Williams and his coaching staff. His grades are up -- he has all "A's" except for one B. The "B" is in auto mechanics, but Sims said he can change brake pads, a much-needed skill especially for the future he has planned for life after high school. He wants to become a diesel mechanic and attend a school in Fort Worth. He also plans to get his CDL trucking license.

Oh, and Sims plans to design clothes under his own brand. He already designs hoodies with his Cricut and sells them.

"I'm focusing more in class this year," Sims said. "I use to not do my work. Now I go and do it right then. I may not do it later. That was last year. Later never came and my grades were going down."

Under Williams' guidance, the Zebras have two-hour study time in the afternoons Monday through Wednesday to get their homework finished and practice is at 6 a.m. Tutors, including retired teachers, volunteer to help players that need more one-on-one. Williams' "character curriculum" is also helping players develop leadership skills, learn life lessons and plan for their futures.

During the interview with Sims, Williams walked in to his office. He teared up when he learned Sims thinks of him as a father figure.

"Going forward, this is his year," Williams said. "Walt always wanted to look up to someone. I feel honored it's me."

Williams looked at Sims and said, "I want you to use this year as fuel to be a great husband, a great dad, to be the man you know you can be."

Sims nodded before the conversation returned to tonight's game.

"I've got a job to do," Sims said. "If you don't do your job on the field, you may miss a touchdown, you might miss something important, but you got to keep going forward. I tell the players, 'Brothers, you mess up, mess up the tackle, you get back up and do it again. You can't go in reverse. You go forward."

Williams' Zebras are ready for tonight against the Badgers. They will stick to their known strategy.

"We always play like we are down 21 points," Williams said. "We come out of the locker room like it is zero to zero."

For Williams, the days leading into the game and Friday night are about the kids, not the stats or the wins and losses.

"Kids deal with a lot these days," Williams said. "I'm glad I have the opportunity to step in and mend those things in their lives like boys without fathers. I look at the players that can give it their all. I look at the flat-out dogs no one else will look at but that have heart and will fight until the end. Those are my players. At the end of the night, win or lose, I just want to be able to say to them, 'You gave it your all.'"

5A-Central Conference

Football Standings

Team; Conf.; Over.

Mills; 3-0; 5-0

Robinson; 2-0; 3-1

Beebe; 2-1; 4-1

Pine Bluff; 2-1; 3-1

Vilonia; 1-1; 1-3

Morrilton; 1-2; 3-2

White Hall; 1-2; 2-3

Maumelle; 0-2; 2-2

Watson Chapel; 0-3; 1-4

Tonight's games (all at 7 p.m.)

Beebe at Pine Bluff

Watson Chapel at Morrilton

Vilonia at Robinson

Maumelle at Mills

Conference 3A-6

Football Standings

Team; Conf.; Over.

Rison; 1-0; 4-0

Fordyce; 1-0; 3-2

Camden Harmony Grove; 1-0; 3-2

Lake Village Lakeside; 0-0; 0-2

Drew Central; 0-1; 3-2

Barton; 0-1; 1-3

Dollarway; 0-1; 0-4

Tonight's games (all at 7 p.m.)

Dollarway at Camden Harmony Grove

Barton at Lake Village Lakeside

Drew Central at Fordyce