As John Sims rose to his feet after a frightening head-first fall, the Air Academy senior struggled to keep his balance as he wobbled off the field during the 4A state soccer championship game against Cheyenne Mountain.
It would take much more to keep Sims from the action in the final game of his high school career. And although Air Academy fell to the Indians 2-1 on Nov. 9, Sims made sure not to be relegated to a spectator.
"After it happened, I was kind of scared," said Sims, The Gazette's boys' soccer Peak Performer of the year. "I got off the field, but nothing was going to keep me on the sidelines."
Sims, who solidified the Air Academy midfield and defense, scored six goals and added eight assists in helping his team win 18 of 20 games and nearly hoist its second state title in four seasons.
Still, the mild-mannered captain harbors mostly good memories from his final season and career on the pitch as a Kadet.
"Obviously, I hate losing, but I think overall we had a really good season," Sims said. "The team camaraderie we had was amazing. We were all good friends, we behaved well and were classy the whole time."
Sims credited his predecessors, previous captains such as Mark Dotseth and Ryan Dozier, for showing the way with leadership through hard work and example instead of by constant chatter.
"I kind of took after them," Sims said. "It was working, plus everyone tells you to lead by example, not necessarily by yelling. Being a quiet leader works pretty well for Air Academy."
Kadets coach Espen Hosoien gushed over Sims' temperament not only on the field, but the way he handled himself in other walks of life.
"He's a leader on and off the field, an overall super good guy," Hosoien said. "It's hard to teach that drive and desire. It was great to see him grow in four years, being fresh out of middle school and becoming pretty good soccer players and men. I'll sure miss him next year."
Twice, Hosoien thought he had seen the last of Sims, first in the regular-season finale against Pine Creek when the midfielder temporarily lost feeling in his arms and legs, then again in the state finals.
Somehow, Sims found a way to return to the field.
"In the final, I thought he was going to get carted off," Hosoien said. "He's a competitor. He wanted to be out there, and once he got the go-ahead, there wasn't any question about not coming back."
With his younger brother James and cousins Austin Dewing and David Louthan, John Sims has transitioned to the basketball court, and after a 5-1 start, hopes some of the soccer success can lead to history on the hardwood.
"We learned through soccer that we can't control everything," Sims said. "But if we can take care of what we can control, we'll have a great season," Sims said. "With that in mind, I think we can have a good shot this year."