MISSOULA and STEVENSVILLE -- Clayton Curley remembers the moment he got the chance to coach Jesse Sims.
Curley was just a second-year head coach at Corvallis High School in 2014, and Sims had transferred from fellow Bitterroot Valley school Stevensville High School. Sims was a senior and finally eligible to play after waiting out the transfer period and stepped on the field a man among boys for the Blue Devils.
“Everyone knew who he was and when we got him it was awesome," Curley recalled. "It was almost like a Greek God walked on the field, that’s what he looked like. His physique was great and everything but up here, his mentality was awesome. He was a role model for everyone and when people are around him they worked harder."
Sims passed away on Saturday, May 29 as the result of an ATV accident, a tragedy that stunned the sporting world across Montana after losing a small-town local who became a leader and fan favorite with the Montana Grizzly football team. His celebration of life was this past weekend which was also held in Stevensville.
At the news of Sims' passing, outpouring from fans, friends and more who had crossed paths with Sims was abundant on social media. For a lot of people, his impact off the field carried just as much weight as what most people saw on Saturdays when he donned Griz maroon and silver.
That goes for Curley, who coached Sims for just one year but saw what all the hype was about.
“Jesse’s that person that I want my kid to be like," Curley said. "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic but not only that, he produces off the field. He’s perfect in the community, he was a great kid in the classroom and he was probably one of the best student-athletes that I’ve seen come around this area."
Curley got Sims after the latter was already one of the most highly touted recruits the state had seen at the time. Initially, Sims committed to Oregon State to continue his football career, but coaching changes with the Beavers caused him to change his mind and reopen his recruiting.
Curley said he received calls from Washington, USC and of course Montana and Montana State about his star athlete who played all over the field for the Blue Devils.
Ultimately, Sims chose to head down the road and attend Montana beginning in 2015 when he redshirted. He worked his way up to a captain's spot in 2019.
"We knew he'd be successful wherever he went because he had that mentality and he loved football," Curley said. "He was probably the hardest worker that I've seen in college or high school. He's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity type of kid."
While his work in his community both on the field and off were well-known, it was at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula where Sims became a household name to Griz fans across the state and nation. He became a four-year starter on the defensive line for the Grizzlies under then-head coach Bob Stitt and eventually during the second tenure of current coach Bobby Hauck.
But in April 2018 at the spring game, Sims joined prestigious company as the latest Grizzly player to earn the No. 37 legacy jersey. He was passed the jersey by Malta native Tucker Schye, who said Sims exemplified Griz football perfectly.
"I’m just glad I picked him and not because of all these events but because he earned it, and I guess just for me as I thought it over that spring the choice just became clearer and clearer in my mind that he was certainly the right choice," Schye said. "For me, I just think of a virtuous guy with strong character. He exemplified so many virtues, fortitude, humility, self-sacrifice, courage, leadership by example and kindness as well."
Schye, who now resides in Mercer, North Dakota, said the unselfishness Sims possessed was apparent when he made the switch in college from defensive end to defensive tackle. He said Sims, who made the switch after his redshirt year, opted to take the unflattering job, with likely less stats in part to UM's defensive scheme at the time, to help the team in an area it badly needed assistance.
"He stepped up and filled that role when we needed it," Schye said. "He stepped up because he loved his teammates and he wanted to help us win and he did the right thing, and to me that's just such a humble, self-sacrificing thing that I thought was awesome. Playing on the interior, every rep is a hard rep. There's not a lot of glory in it, people don't often recognize those guys, those guys don't have to put up big stats but I guarantee if you talk to guys like Connor Strahm, Josh Buss, Jace Lewis, Dante Olson, they loved having a guy like Jesse who was so selfless on the field like that.
"I was very privileged and very blessed to have called him a teammate, a friend and a brother. How lucky we were to have a guy like him in our lives, I can’t speak highly enough of him."
The same goes for former Griz center Cy Sirmon, who was friends and roommates with Sims during their time with UM. The two camped and fished at every opportunity they could together along with friend and former Griz standout linebacker Dante Olson.
Sims' passing at age 24 is hard to comprehend for a guy who had plenty of life ahead of him. He was engaged to be married to former Lady Griz player and assistant coach Jace Henderson and had studied health and human performance in college with hopes of becoming an athletic trainer. He worked at Pfahler Sport Specific with former Griz Steven Pfahler, a place Sims had both trained and assisted at since high school.
Even when records Sims himself set were about to be broken by current students, Sims couldn't be happier about it.
"He loved to help young athletes better themselves in pursuit of a dream," Sirmon said. "They had some kids who are doing really well in the weight room and are closing in on some of the records Jesse set himself. Steve would poke fun at him and say, 'They're coming for you,' and Jesse said, 'Good.' That really resonated with me because it's exactly who he is."
Sirmon recalled Sims being the guy they tried to test often because he was such an intimidating force coming out of high school.
"He was by far the man among the boys," Sirmon said. "He took everything to the next level and he was just better at stuff. I looked up to him right away and that was kind of the beginning of our friendship.
"He was a quiet dude, but when he spoke it carried weight. He was like that in everything he did."
While his accolades run deep on the field, Sirmon said Sims' impact as a person will stretch far and wide for many years to come.
"I just hope that when people think of Jesse they don’t just think of the athlete that he was," Sirmon said. "He was truly a special person, inside and out, he’d do anything for you. He was the most loyal dude. He was happy with the simplest things in life. He just wanted to get outside and spend time with his fiance, spend time with his friends every now and then.
"I’m really going to miss him and I hope that Missoula remembers him more so for his heart than his muscle, because it was the biggest heart I ever met."