Senior linebacker Elijah Sullivan’s time at Kansas State hasn’t been without its twist and turns. Sullivan battled injuries, dealt with a major coaching change, played on special teams and now heads into his final season as the team’s leading linebacker.
“It’s been a journey,” Sullivan said. “But I’m thankful for it. There are so many memories.”
After playing in all 13 games in 2017, Sullivan only appeared in three games during the 2018 season due to an ACL tear that kept him from playing for remainder of the season.
“Initially, you are going to be down the on yourself for the moment, because you put in the work to get ready for the season,” Sullivan said.
To preserve his eligibility for another year, he was granted medical hardship.
With the help of his parents, the K-State medical staff and a couple of close friends, Sullivan says he was able to will himself back to football.
“Once I got to surgery and I got going to doing the rehab, as the days went on, I just willed myself to who I was supposed to be,” Sullivan said. “After surgery, I wasn’t able to walk for a little while, getting back the strength to get back the flexibility. It takes a mental toll on you. As time goes on you get stronger and better, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sullivan played in all 13 games in 2019, and was recognized for his achievements — he was awarded an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention by the league’s coaches. He led the Wildcats in tackles with 65, as well as five tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and four pass breakups. Sullivan ended the season by winning the Liberty Bowl Team Defensive MVP for K-State.
The disappointment of losing to Navy during the Bowl Game has served as extra motivation for Sullivan as he strives to work hard this offseason in the hopes that he can help the Wildcats play a strong 2020 season.
“I’m just trying to find time to workout whenever I can,” Sullivan said on how he is staying healthy during quarantine. “I got a little jump rope that I do. My dad has this little weight room area downstairs in our basement.”
Sullivan said the coaching staff has done a good job of keeping the team together during the pandemic, and credits the teams new linebackers coach Steve Stanard for keeping in touch with the defense.
“We have Zoom meetings three or four times a week,” Sullivan said. “We have been interacting with Stanard — just getting to know him and becoming familiar with him.”
Stanard is excited about the opportunity to coach Sullivan this season.
“Watching Elijah on film, I’m excited about coaching him,” Stanard said. “He is very athletic. One of the best in the Big 12 as far as athleticism and speed, so I am excited about the opportunity to coach him. He has aspirations of playing more football after college, and I am excited about helping him accomplish those goals along with what we want to get done as a team.”
Stanard believes his productive playmaking is only going to go up.
“Instinctively, he is only going to get better,” Stanard said. “Last year he was still getting more confident coming off a knee surgery, and putting that foot in the ground. I think it is only going to be better this upcoming season.”
Sullivan says the locker room is just a “band of brothers.” The team chemistry has not changed despite the distance.
“Every time we get on Zoom for our meetings you can tell we are looking forward to getting back on the field and working out with each other,” Sullivan said. “It’s just funny the jokes we share.”
The senior linebacker knows how important it is to keep the team going during this time of lockdown because the progress made will be visible once the season begins.
“It is going to show who has continued to work out and stay fit and who hasn’t once we get back to college and when we start playing again,” Sullivan said. “It is going to have big impact on the season.”
The Wildcats are still expected to kickoff the 2020 football season Sept. 5 as they look take on Buffalo in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.