For senior defensive lineman Rob Sullivan, there’s no question as to what he will do once the Elon University football team’s season ends.
“As far as football, after this, it’s over,” Sullivan said. “I’m ready to just let my body heal. I don’t know if my body can take any more.”
So far this season, his body is holding up, and his play is reaching a peak.
Sullivan is tied for second in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with four sacks. The two sacks in each of Elon’s first two games — against Wake Forest University and Gardner-Webb University — are more than double his previous career total of three.
With two surgeries since stepping onto campus back in 2011, one on each labrum in his shoulders, Sullivan has no intention to play football beyond his senior year.
Sleeping is hard enough as it is.
“You can ask any guy that’s had a shoulder injury, it’s not something that heals overnight or goes away,” he said. “You’re laying down in bed, you can’t lay on one side for too long.”
Sullivan said he’s been certain that this was his last year for a while now.
That’s taken some pressure off, and it’s showing on the field.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” Sullivan said. “People say it’s in high school, and high school is great, but playing in front of a ton of people, playing well, and playing with a group of guys I’ve been with for so long — it’s great.”
Passing around the credit
Sullivan won’t take any of the credit, though — to him, the sacks are the result of a strong defensive effort.
“When you get pressure from different sides, sacks are just going to happen,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been fortunate to be on the receiving end on the stat line. But a lot of credit goes to the rest of the defensive line and linebackers, because they’re definitely getting back there and helping me out as well.”
His strong performance and veteran leadership doesn’t go unnoticed on the coaching staff.
“Rob has a great maturity about him,” said head coach Rich Skrosky. “I’ve noticed that since the day I’ve gotten hired. He has no pretense about him, and he’s not an entitled kid in any way, and he’s really been productive.”
For defensive line coach Patrick Madden, Sullivan’s improvement goes just beyond his strong performances.
“It’s more than just the games — it’s day in and day out,” Madden said. “We see what he is doing to get better and get the guys around him better.
“Every week, I think he picks something he tries to work on, something he may have done badly in the game [before]. He’s a very conscious player, and he knows what teams will try to do to beat him.”
Long travels, here and there
Sullivan comes to Elon from Scottsdale, Arizona, making him one of the few Elon athletes coming from the West Coast. The distance has made it hard for family and friends to watch him play, as flights across the country now cost more than $400 per ticket round-trip.
When they did come, Sullivan noticed.
“When I was younger, I felt a lot of pressure,” he said. “I say pressure because I wanted to do well in front of my family, because I wasn’t playing as much. I felt every rep mattered more because they were only coming to one game a season.”
In this last season, though, Sullivan says there’s been a noticeable change.
“Now, it’s my senior year, and they’re making the commitment to come to as many as they can,” he said. “So not so much now, but when I was younger, and they came the one time, I was like, ‘All right, I gotta try and do something cool.’ Now, not so much.”
While his family is trying to make it to as many home games as possible, there is one game that they will not attend: the Nov. 14 game at the University of Maine.
When asked about the game, Sullivan recalled last year’s game against Maine, which was a frigid 44-degree home game for Elon.
“It was one of the last home games of the year, and it was freezing. We were practicing out here — and I was never a guy with the leggings or the long sleeves, because I never did that — but it hit me that day,” Sullivan said. “I went out to Dick’s the day before the game. I bought leggings, I bought long sleeves. So I think I’m set.”
Has he put any consideration into having an instant hand warmer or two?
“I might, honestly,” he said. “I was not made for [cold weather], I was not built for that. So I’m not looking forward to that. It’ll be interesting — I had never played in weather that was colder than 60 degrees [before Elon].”
The end of the road
The fifth-year senior said he has already embraced the mentality of his final season.
“It definitely hit me after last season, when we came back in the spring,” Sullivan said. “You develop relationships, and the best relationships are with the guys that are in your year, because they’ve been with you the longest.
“And when you see a lot of those guys are gone — it’s just me, [senior defensive back] Miles [Williams] and [senior linebacker] Alex Dawson right now — that’s when it hit me that this is a different team.”
The team is younger, and Skrosky has put an emphasis on the underclassmen getting playing time so far. It’s a stark contrast to what Sullivan experienced.
“My freshman year, there weren’t any freshmen playing,” he said. “We had a strong group of upperclassmen, but we didn’t have such an influx of talent. Now the younger guys are here, we just got to make sure they’re on their stuff, because they are going to be playing significant snaps.”
But, as he reminisces on his time at Elon, Sullivan seems content for this to be the end of his football career.
“I never really thought I was going to be going to the NFL,” he said. “I came in as a walk-on, so my goal was just to earn a scholarship and get some playing time. I did that, and I’m happy I did that — probably one of the biggest accomplishments of my life so far.
“I’m happy with just that.”