Senior lineman Sullivan a key cog in Gators’ staunch defense

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Even after three seasons as a starting defensive lineman for Vicksburg High, Michael Sullivan said he still occasionally has to beg his coaches to let him keep his position.

It’s not because his ability is slipping. It’s because he’s too good not to at least consider having him play on offense as well.

“Defense, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. They want me to play offense, but I’m always like, ‘No, coach, I want to play defense.’ Defense is very intense and I enjoy it,” Sullivan said.

He’s also very good at it.

In his first two seasons as a starter, Sullivan has a total of 100 tackles, 11 sacks and three fumble recoveries — great numbers for a defensive tackle whose job has primarily been to occupy blockers and allow others to make the types of plays that show up on highlight reels.

Sullivan’s efforts in the trenches have helped two teammates, defensive end Jo’Mon O’Neal and linebacker Nick Anderson, win the last two Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year awards, and have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by them.

“You can always count on Mike to contain the edge, and if anything gets wide he’s going to stop it. He’s one of the best players on our defense,” said Anderson, who had 136 tackles last season.

Sullivan might get to showcase his talents a little more this season. He said new defensive coordinator Milton Green has moved him around the formation during spring and summer practices, using him as a tackle, end or rush linebacker. In last week’s jamboree against Provine he was primarily used at left defensive end.

Sullivan is versatile enough to handle the challenge. Despite being a bit undersized for an interior lineman at 6 foot, 230 pounds, Sullivan makes up for it with brute strength and a quick first step that allow him to beat many opponents.

“He’s so strong. I don’t think he even realizes his own strength. I saw that our 10th grade year when we played Warren Central, and he snatched (quarterback Jesse Wilson) off his feet,” Anderson said. “It’s just having that power on the edge, and then you’ve got Jo’Mon with the quickness and Michael with the power and both of them coming off the edge, and it’s just a scary sight.”

Physical attributes aren’t the only thing that has made Sullivan a success. He has a 3.8 GPA and is part of a group of seniors that has been playing together since they were young children.

“We’re very close. Some of us started in elementary playing football for the YMCA, and we’ve been close ever since,” Sullivan said. “It’s very fun. We click automatically because we go way back, and that makes it even better. We’re just that group, the Class of ’18.”

Sullivan said the bond they share, their work ethic, and their ability to grasp concepts — Sullivan and Anderson are among several senior football players ranked near the top of the class of 2018 academically — have helped make this group of Gators a success.

“It’s easy to learn plays. Coaches don’t have to explain it time after time, we just catch on to it,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes we’ll be watching film and he’ll be like, ‘Write it down.’ We usually don’t because we catch on just like that. We remember just like that. You’ve got to pay attention in film study.”

Friday, at Warren Central
5:30 p.m. – Oxford vs. Vicksburg
8 p.m. – Clarksdale vs. Warren Central
• Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the gate. Advance tickets are on sale at 601 Sports, Michel’s Music, River Outfitters, the Vicksburg Warren School District athletic office and Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools and junior highs.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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