If there’s anything rookie Stephen Sullivan has learned so far in his NFL career, it’s to expect the unexpected.
With veteran defensive end Benson Mayowa sidelined with a sore ankle, the Seattle Seahawks seventh-round pick heard his name called, but it wasn’t for the position he was drafted for or the position he played in college with the champion LSU Tigers Football Team.
Instead, the rookie converted tight end was needed at the rush spot just weeks after Seattle pivoted him to defensive end.
“I didn’t see this in a million years,” Sullivan said Sunday night after the Seahawks 37-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers. “Man, I couldn’t tell you I’d be right here, right now, playing defensive end in the NFL. So, I didn’t see this coming at all to be honest with you."
Sullivan hasn't played defense since his days at Donaldson High School and initially enrolled with the Tigers as a receiver before the team transitioned him to tight end during his senior year.
The move took the 23-year-old some getting used to.
“I’ll say the hardest thing with it was just me I guess was just me working my hands,” Sullivan said. “Me playing tight end, I was already in a three-point position quite a bit. So just working my hands, working the strike and just really moves-wise because I had the speed, I had the get-off, it just came down to me working my hands and getting my technique down.”
It didn’t take long for Sullivan to figure out his new role. In the first NFL game, Sullivan shared a tackle for loss with Damontre Moore.
Pete Carroll was “fired up” about Sullivan’s debut.
“I can’t wait to see his film,” Carroll said. “He’s such a good athlete and he was willing to change from playing tight end to go rush the passer in the middle of his rookie season. It’s just a great team move that he made because we needed his help and today, he got to play.”
Making his NFL debut was something Sullivan has dreamed of since he was a kid. From an early age, Sullivan faced adversity as his mother and father were incarcerated when he was young, and he and his brother would bounce from house-to-house, often sleeping under a freeway or overpass.
His rough upbringing is something that Sullivan keeps “in his pocket,” to remind him of not only where he’s come from, but how far he has come.
“Just being out there is a dream come true, even if I didn’t touch the field,” Sullivan said. “Just being on the sideline would be a dream come true for me. Coming up from where I come from, a lot of guys don’t make it this far...
For so much of his life, Sullivan has overcome tremendous odds. Now he’s relishing in his opportunity in the NFL, with the Seahawks, to prove he’s a beast on both sides of the ball, or whatever position Coach Carroll calls him to do.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win honestly,” Sullivan said. “I'm a team player so if coach Pete wants me to kick the ball, then I'll kick the ball."