NEW ORLEANS - If there's one defining trait for Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, it's that he doesn't rattle easily or ever give up.
Sims played running back and wide receiver before becoming the little-used backup to quarterback A.J. McCarron for two seasons, and when Nick Saban brought in Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, it seemed to spell reserve duty for Sims again.
"I didn't get too down," Sims said when asked about his reaction to competing with Coker for the starting job last summer. "I brought in Jacob with open arms."
Sims may have welcomed Coker, but he conceded nothing on the field. When the season opened, Sims made the first start of his career, and he never let go of the job even after a loss to Ole Miss that was followed by a too-close 14-13 win over Arkansas.
When No. 1 Alabama (12-1) faces Ohio State (12-1) in a College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday night in the Sugar Bowl, Sims will enter with the full confidence of his teammates as the Tide's all-time single-season leader in passing yards (3,250) and total offense (3,571).
"Blake Sims has done a phenomenal job for our team this year," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. "There were a lot of people who didn't think that Blake Sims could ever be the quarterback at Alabama, but he worked extremely hard to overcome every deficiency he had."
Sims credits first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for helping him improve his body language, mind-set, awareness and game management skills, and the time spent as McCarron's understudy left him well-prepared to beat out Coker for the job. "A.J. taught me the right way," Sims said. "He showed me why he was successful."
Of course, Sims has benefited from the presence of All-American wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. But even when he was in the background, Sims mentored Cooper, describing him as "like a little brother to me."
That communication is evident on the field. "He might just nod his head," Sims said of Cooper, "and we know just what he means."