Herd looking forward to Saturday's reunion with ex-mate Sullivan
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.
Sullivan went 3-for-7 for 17 yards in a loss at East Carolina, but Anderson carried the Herd the rest of the way in a 5-7 season.
In 2011, Holliday brought Rakeem Cato to campus, setting up a four-way battle between Cato, Graham, Sullivan and Blake Frohnapfel. After two weeks of preseason camp, coaches named Cato and Graham the top two, leaving Frohnapfel to redshirt and Sullivan to run the scout team.
When the Herd took the field on a cold November night at Memphis, No. 8 was nowhere to be found. Holliday confirmed that Sullivan had left the program.
Sullivan could have ended up playing, even in the Memphis game. Graham was out with a shoulder and Frohnapfel was fighting his own shoulder problems, which would have left Sullivan as the lone scholarship backup.
When Frohnapfel was shut down, the Herd groomed receiver Jermaine Kelson for emergency duty in the bowl game.
"I made my decision on leaving Marshall a little bit sooner. I never quit a team in my life, so that was a hard decision to make," Sullivan said. "I took a personal action by quitting the team to keep my redshirt. It was a tough decision to make, but I made it and ran with it."
He announced that decision with the Herd in final preparations for that Thursday night game at Memphis. Several MU players confirmed that Sullivan addressed the team before his departure.
They respect him for doing so.
"Given the circumstances and how he was feeling, I think he did it in the best way he thought he could," said tight end Eric Frohnapfel. "Some of the coaches had a problem with it, but I think that, as far as the team went, I think we all understood what he was doing and we all wished him the best.
"And I don't think there were hard feelings from anybody on the team when he left."
Sullivan is enjoying Cullowhee, which he compares to Huntington with one notable exception.
"Coming here, you can't look 10 feet without looking at a mountain," Sullivan said. "These mountains are huge, they're nothing to play with."
Should he regain WCU's starting position and play Saturday, he faces another large mountain. Herd defenders had their pride wounded last week at West Virginia and are itching to take it out on somebody.
That could be Sullivan, who will run around the Edwards Stadium turf without a red "no-contact" jersey.
"It's going to be fun. He's going to be ready, we know that," Taylor said. "He was a high-tempo guy when he was here; we've got to be ready for that.
"He likes to run around a little bit, and we've got to make sure we hit him when he does."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.