As late as this summer, Ryan Sullivan wasn’t sure whether or not he would be playing another season of football at St. Anselm College. The former Stoughton standout had his initial senior season wiped out by the pandemic and, although he entered the transfer portal to see what was out there, the two-time All-NE-10 defensive back thought his final game as a Hawk may have been a fall scrimmage.
The school offered him the opportunity to take the field one more time. A fifth-year senior, who graduated with a nursing degree in May, Sullivan was able to sign up for a second Bachelor’s degree program, allowing him one more chance to suit up on Saturdays.
“I was ecstatic,” he explained. “I kind of had a piece of me that still wanted to play but I wasn’t sure and once I was able to figure out how I could come back here then I was all in.”
Having a season taken away by COVID gave Sullivan a new perspective on the different aspects of playing college sports, no matter how much of a grind the football season may be.
“When you’re in it, you do class, film, lift, meetings, all this stuff coming at you and you’re kind of just going through it,” Sullivan said, “but once it’s taken away you get to realize how much you miss that Tuesday practice.
“I have a bigger appreciation for everything and I never take anything for granted because I know there are a ton of college football players who graduated this past year who aren’t as fortunate and got their senior season taken away, which sucks.”
The Hawks have battled injuries and inexperience in the early going and have struggled to a 1-5 start, but Sullivan is seeing positives from parts of the performances, if not the final results. “It’s been tough,” he admitted. “In spurts we look good, look like we should be playing, but we haven’t really put in a full game together.”
With freshmen and sophomores getting their first taste of game action this season, Sullivan’s role as an experienced leader on defense is vital.
He noted, “We practiced in the fall and spring last year but it was always broken up. We were just having defensive back practice, we didn’t interact even with the linebackers. So, getting acclimated to that game-time atmosphere and having a crowd and everything, it was very important to bring them along.”
When Sullivan first stepped onto the field at St. A’s five years ago, it wasn’t obvious at first that he was going to be in this position, literally. Recruited as a running back out of Stoughton, Sullivan spent the first year on the scout team, going through the opposition’s sets and trying to find a place on special teams so he could get on the field on Saturday.
The following spring, he was switched to safety and almost immediately found his niche. He played in all nine games that season, recording 104 tackles, including a program record of 20 tackles in a game against Southern Connecticut State, and being named second team all-conference. Sullivan was sixth in DII, averaging 11.6 tackles per game that year. He followed that with a first team all-conference season in 2019 as a junior, racking up another 95 tackles and moving into the top 10 all-time in assisted tackles.
This year, Sullivan continues to be a menace in the secondary. During the loss to Stonehill last weekend, he moved into the top 10 in total tackles too. He has accumulated 239 tackles in less than three years. Not that he has had much time to think about what it means to climb the program’s record books, a program that his grandfather also played for.
“It just meant that much more to me going through the whole scout team route and everything,” Sullivan said about being recognized as an All-NE-10 player two seasons in a row. “It kind of makes you not take anything for granted. I like that aspect of starting at the bottom and working your way up, seeing every aspect of college football.”
Making the transition to defensive back was pretty seamless because of his time in the position at Stoughton. Sullivan remarked, “I just always liked contact and on the defensive side you’re trying to initiate contact. That always came naturally to me.” Some of the grit and toughness he has shown in college was also ingrained in him playing for the Black Knights, well-known for being a tough, physical program.
“I really developed in high school playing for Coach Burke,” Sullivan said. “Playing at the old stone dust field getting dirt blown in and that tough-guy mentality, overcoming anything.”
Going through a pandemic, having games and practices taken away, having to deal with quarantines and remote learning, Sullivan is grateful to have his teammates to share the experience with and to lean on during the tough times. As he reflected on his five years in the program, Sullivan always went back to the relationships he built with his teammates.
“We were able to as a team kind of stick together and make the most of every situation we were dealt and just being able to depend on that brotherhood is my favorite part of being on a team,” he said. “I think this whole five-year experience I’ve met so many great people, some of my best friends who I’ll keep with me my whole life.”
When asked what he will be looking forward to over the final few weeks of the season, Sullivan replied, “Just enjoying every moment that you get out here and just being with the guys, just being part of a team. I love that whole gameday-type vibe. I love it all.”
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