Tallahassee, Fla. – On a hot July morning, current and former Florida State football players came together for the Ernie Sims Football and Cheer Camp, part of Sims’ Big H.I.T.S. Foundation Charity Weekend. Despite having team workouts later in the day, current Seminoles made time to come out to the camp and spend time instructing the youth of the Tallahassee community.
“H.I.T.S.” stands for “Helping to Instill Tools for Success,” an acronym that embodies the calling card of Sims’ playing career as well as the mission statement of his post-football life.
Florida State football players Travis Rudolph, Roderick Johnson, Marquez White, A.J. Westbrook, and Calvin Brewton all suited up for the camp, which Sims’ foundation has organized since 2008.
Joining Sims and the current ‘Noles were Florida State legend Charlie Ward, as well as standouts Leon Washington, James Coleman, and others. After all these years since first donning the Garnet and Gold, current and former players alike share a special bond, and a desire to help out in the community.
“The biggest and the great thing is that all of us, (former FSU football players) Leon Washington, DeCody Fagg, Leroy Smith, James Coleman, we are all doing this similar type of job: investing in the kids,” Sims said. “This is just one of the great events that the FSU community is doing. We are paying it forward. We are investing in these kids not only with football skills but life values and principles.”
Last month, White, a senior cornerback, helped organize a similar event- “A Different Way Out”- in his hometown of Dothan, Ala. When Sims finally got the chance to meet White, Sims was more than happy to impart his wisdom after nearly a decade of philanthropic work.
“I told him, ‘What you are doing is amazing. You, with the mindset you have in college, when I was in college I didn’t have that mindset,’” Sims said. “What he’s doing now in college is giving back to his community, working with the local church that he went to. That right there is what it’s all about: impacting peoples’ lives.”
White was excited to learn from Sims, who starred at linebacker for FSU from 2003-2005 before being drafted ninth overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2006 NFL Draft.
“He saw the camp that I did back home, he could tell that I’ve got a really good heart,” White said. “We were talking about the season, (Sims was) giving me some encouraging words that I can use during tough situations.”
After initial stretching and warmups, the campers split off into position groups with members of the Big H.I.T.S. Foundation. Defensive backs Brewton, Westbrook and White helped out with a backpedaling cone drill while Rudolph threw passes for the young receivers and quarterbacks.
At one point, White took to jokingly stripping the ball from the campers, leading many to resort to jukes and spin moves to avoid the ball hawking cornerback. Everyone around was smiling ear-to-ear as each player tried to evade the rangy White.
Johnson, Florida State’s starting left tackle, led linemen through multiple bag drills and helped each camper individually with their stance and get-off.
The work of current ‘Noles was not lost on Sims, who was excited by the turnout for this year’s event.
“Having Travis Rudolph and ‘Big Rod’ come out is building a foundation…. I see Travis Rudolph everywhere in the community,” Sims said.
For several generations of Florida State football, there’s nothing they’d rather do than take time out of the day to mentor the young people of Tallahassee, even under the sweltering north Florida sun.
Fortunately for the campers, those at Big H.I.T.S. Foundation have a trick up their sleeve: a Tallahassee Fire Department fire truck. During a water break between drills, TFD extended the ladder and sprayed the 350-plus attendees with a refreshing blast of cool water.
White took notice.
“He gave me ideas for the camp that I do back home,” White said. “I’m going to do it again next year, (things like) being able to have the fire truck. There’s a lot of things I see out here that I’ll be able to use in my camp.”
Fire truck or not, White, Sims and the rest of the Florida State family are aiming to make an impact on the next generation of Seminoles in the local community and beyond.