When Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings laced up for fall camp last year, they didn’t know that just a short month later, they’d be running out onto the field in front of 90,000 fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Rebels’ SEC opener.
Both guys were in their redshirt freshman year, a season that they originally thought would be a crucial stage in their development toward contributing in the future. But things happened. Injuries happened. Suspensions happened, and the two were called upon much earlier than they’d imagined.
“I’m with Jordan. I didn’t expect it really,” Rawlings said. “It shows what hard work does.”
The suspension of Laremy Tunsil prompted Fahn Cooper moving to left tackle and left a hole to be filled on what was already a thin offensive line. Rawlings answered the call, playing in 10 games and starting seven.
“We’d be in every off day working our tails off together to be the best that we could in the position that we were in, and I feel like we did that,” Rawlings said. “It’s paid off for us so far and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Nagging injuries to Rod Taylor and Aaron Morris opened the door for Sims, who played in every game and made four starts at right guard. The learning curve from playing on the offensive line in high school to the SEC is almost incomparable, and though the learning curve was steep, the two worked to adapt after being thrown into the proverbial fire.
“It helped a lot,” Rawlings said. “Experience is the major tool for any offensive lineman. It allows you to adapt to the game so much faster, so the more experience you have, the better.”
Last year offered valuable experience as much as it bred maturity for two guys who may only be sophomores but will be seen as experienced veterans that will help stabilize an offensive line unit that, outside of senior center Robert Conyers, will rely on some younger guys.
“We lost some a lot of seniors, some guys to the NFL, so these young guys have to step up,” offensive line coach Matt Luke said. “We do have some guys that have played before and those guys are all young. That’s a good thing with Rawlings, Sims and (Javon) Patterson: they’re young guys but they’ve played a bunch of football.”
Both will be relied on heavily, and possibly at multiple positions. Rawlings has worked some at center in the spring and fall, growing more comfortable at that interior line spot.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Rawlings said of moving to center if needed. “Wherever I am on the field, I don’t care. I am going to compete regardless. I’ve gotten more comfortable with center through the spring and adapted to that. Wherever it is I don’t care.”
The experience hasn’t changed their work ethic, however. The two saw how far they came a year ago, and said they know they can go further in 2016.
“We know it’s already paid off and so we’re going to continue to get extra work in,” Sims said. “Just being able to see that we could contribute on the offensive line together.”