HUNTINGTON - Eddie Sullivan has escaped the coach's doghouse at Western Carolina, but his former Marshall teammates are barking a bit about his return to Huntington.
Sullivan, who transferred from MU to the Southern Conference school after last season, is competing for the Catamounts' starting job all over again after being benched last week for violating team rules. And it won't be easy: Troy Mitchell started for Sullivan and was named Southern Conference freshman of the week after Western's 42-14 win over Mars Hill.
If Sullivan stays planted on the eastern sideline at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday, it would disappoint Thundering Herd players. To a man, they're happy to see him happy in the high mountains of North Carolina.
But they'd be happier to take a few shots at him.
"We're going to do it how we did in practice," said Andre Snipes-Booker, who once took passes from Sullivan as a receiver. "We're going to mess with him, tease him, taunt at him, get him out of his game and basically get in his head. We did it all year last year; we're going to do it this year."
Snipes-Booker delivered that with a big grin, so it didn't seem malicious. Devilish, perhaps, but not malicious. Not until 7 p.m. Saturday, anyway, when the Catamounts come to Huntington for the first time in 16 years.
The game airs on Fox College Sports Atlantic, channel 509 on Suddenlink digital cable.
"You know, we don't have any bad blood toward Eddie," said defensive end Jeremiah Taylor. "He wanted to play, he felt like he deserved playing time. We can't blame him. He came out here every day and played hard."
No, Sullivan didn't pick Western just to return to Huntington. When he got his release from Marshall, he already had inside information on a good fit in the Football Championship Subdivision, where he could transfer without penalty.
That came from his younger brother, Appalachian State receiver John Sullivan - not about the Mountaineers, but about Western Carolina.
Yes, Appalachian and Western are still rivals, and still play for the Old Mountain Jug. But new Western coach Mike Speir came to Cullowhee, N.C., from Boone, where he served nine successful seasons under Jerry Moore at Appy State.
Speir brought a few Appalachian assistants with him, plus a former ASU player (Pat Mills, who spent the 2011 season on the Concord staff). The younger Sullivan knew, liked and respected them all.
"He couldn't praise those coaches enough," Eddie Sullivan said. "Everything off his tongue about them was good. It was great to finally get in touch with them, after I got my release."
The root of Sullivan's transfer, as with most quarterback transfers, is the search for playing time. After all, that is one of the few positions in which if you don't start, you usually don't play.
Listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds, the Boca Raton, Fla., native was the first quarterback signed by new Herd coach Doc Holliday, and was well touted as a former Wake Forest commitment.
Sullivan played right away for Marshall in 2010, subbing late for Brian Anderson in a season-opening 45-7 loss at Ohio State. He went 1-for-7, though several passes were dropped, and he recovered his own fumble and turned it into a 7-yard gain.
At Bowling Green, he had rushes of 12 and 9 yards, but threw three incomplete passes. He looked tentative, not sure whether to run, pass or hold on to the ball a bit longer.
A.J. Graham was given the next opportunity when Anderson was ineffective, and had a touchdown drive going when he was injured. Sullivan returned to second string, tossing an 86-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson in a 35-14 loss to Central Florida. After that pass, however, Sullivan suffered two three-and-out possessions.