By Greg Klein
---- — No one expected foreign exchange student Noah Sims to be playing quarterback for Cooperstown this season.
Even Sims said he was surprised to find himself as the Redskins’ starting quarterback, after playing as a backup in practice.
"I just wanted to jump in and play as much as possible, wherever the coach told me to play," he said. "After our scrimmage, he said I would start at quarterback, to be honest I was surprised."
Sims' coach, Mark Segina, the Redskins’ first-year head football coach, said he couldn't really believe it either.
"I didn’t really think that it would be possible to teach someone with NO football experience all the ins and outs of the QB position," Segina said. "How to read coverages, look off safeties, run the progression, find and know the seams and holes in various coverage shells and how to recognize them, etc. That’s just the mental pre-snap read stuff, not the timing aspects that our offense is based on. What Noah is willing to do is devote all the time and effort after practice, on his own time, to learn all this information.
"I sometimes wonder just how good he would be if he had the typical senior’s progression of Pee Wee, modified and then two years of varsity experience prior to this year," Segina said.
Instead, the exchange student from Tatura, Australia, is living out his dreams to play American football for just this one season, all while helping Segina and Cooperstown rebuild its football program.
Sims has stayed with three families as part of his journey that began last winter — the Bayes, the McGuires and now the Bliss family.
The just-turned-17-year-old is listed as a senior, but will actually have two more years of grade school when he gets back to his hometown, in the province of Victoria, about two hours inland from Melbourne.
When he does go back — his time here will end in January — he will be welcomed by his younger brother Bellamey, 15, but only because Noah fulfilled his promise to play football.
"He said I wasn't allowed to come home if I didn't play football," Sims said, laughing at the memory. "But I always wanted to play it if I had the chance. I love to watch it whenever I can. At home we are lucky to get two games a week on television, and then I have to tape them because I am usually in school."
Sims said he has become a Jets fan since he moved here, visiting the team's training camp in Cortland, and meeting fellow Aussie, New York tight end Hayden Smith.
Although Sims said he can see a lot more football games on television here, he has found that he doesn't have much time for watching. In addition to sports and school work, Sims is rehearsing for the school play, "Footloose," where he is in the chorus.
"School, football, the play, practice, eat and sleep, that's pretty much all I do," he said.
An avid drummer, Sims said he misses his drums, his brother and the rest of his family, but isn't keen on going back home otherwise.
"I really like it here," he said. "I'd like to come back for college in a couple of years."
Sims helped lead Cooperstown to its first victory in nearly two years when he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the season opener at New York Mills. He also is playing linebacker and kicker. However, he modestly gives the credit for his success to others.
"Really it is my teammates who made me look good that game," he said. "The boys at receiver and on the offensive line, all the credit goes to them."
On the other hand, when the team has struggled, Sims said he blames himself. When he left the lopsided loss to Dolgeville with a turned right ankle, he said he felt angry.
"I thought I heard a crack, to be honest, I was just very angry at myself. My boys were getting beat and I couldn't do anything to help them," he said.
That attitude, or lack of one, is typical of Sims, according to his coach.
"Noah is a great kid; he is kind, considerate, smart as a whip, confident, a natural leader and a very gifted athlete. He is a dream to coach, he wants to learn everything and understand why; which enables me to build on his knowledge base very quickly," Segina said.
"Having athletic ability certainly helps, but the QB position is mostly mental," he continued. "You have to be calm under extreme pressure and be able to remember your progression as a 300-pound defensive tackle is trying to crush you. He has that calm poise under fire and couple that with his natural athleticism and leadership ability, he makes a perfect QB. Our kids believe in Noah’s ability, as do I, and what I see is his work ethic and the hours of extra effort he is willing to put forth."
Sims has also been racking up points as a kicker.
"We saw it during the summer," Segina said. "He was just booting field goals from 30 to 40 yards out for fun, to see if he could do it. He could."
As if playing quarterback and kicker wasn't enough, Sims also starts on defense, at outside lineback.
"He is just gifted naturally, fast, agile and what I love to see is just how much fun he is having. He will blow up a play, make a big hit, and I can see his grin from ear-to-ear from the sideline," Segina said. "He is having a blast out there and it shows and is contagious."
The only downside to Sims school year is that he will miss the end of basketball season. At 6-foot-1 he would have been a good fit for the Redskins’ rebuilding hoops team, too.
"Basketball, that's my number one sport," he said. "I wished I had gotten to play with them, but I got here in time to watch them go all the way to the state tournament."
Now with time ticking down on his exchange year, Sims said he is reluctant to leave, and eager to enjoy every moment he has left.
"I'm looking forward to winter," he said. "I had never seen snow until I got here. It wasn't much of a winter; I am hoping for more before I leave."