Young men who truly love the game that they participate in never feel like the game is a job or an order that is being asked of them — because they’ll enjoy it no matter what the circumstances may be.
And while Valley senior Bayden Sullivan may have not seen the most playing time in the world during his high school playing days, the 6-2, 180-pound linebacker must love the game, because he’s embracing the challenges that are ahead of him. On Friday afternoon, Sullivan officially accepted those challenges when the senior inked with Wilmington College to play college football at the NCAA Division III level in a signing ceremony held inside the halls of Valley High School.
For Sullivan, the opportunity to play for four more years — in any sport, no less — is a feat that he is proud of personally.
“I’ve always wanted to play a sport four more years in college,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t really care what level it was. So it really was a dream come true when this opportunity came about.”
However, in Darren Crabtree’s eyes, the coaching veteran of more than two decades believes that Wilmington is getting a strong quality with the simple fact that Sullivan seems to understand his role going in.
“Bayden is a young man who didn’t see the playing time that he may have necessarily desired, but he stuck it out and is continuing to pursue the sport of football onto the next level,” Crabtree said. “It takes a certain mindset to want to be able to do that despite not seeing optimum playing time in high school, and that’s an admirable quality that Wilmington will be picking up with Bayden.”
“It feels amazing,” Sullivan said. “It’s a blessing to be able to continue to play football, especially at a school like Wilmington, and have the support from the people here and (Darren) Crabtree. It’s been a great four years here, and there’s been a lot of ups and downs, but having the support of everyone, and being able to continue my football career for another four years, feels amazing.”
At Wilmington, Sullivan will not only get to play at the NCAA Division III institution, but will also bring additional Scioto County flavor with him. West’s Caleb Deaver will also be playing at the school in the fall, while former Portsmouth standout defensive back Jaylin Kennedy, who worked his way into the defensive back rotation at Otterbein — another D-III institution — is an assistant coach on the staff. Sullivan won’t be too far away from Kennedy himself, as the 6-2, 185-pounder will play at outside linebacker, and he has potential at the spot — with a bench press of 205 and a squat of 300 on his resume according to his recruiting profile on the Next College Student Athlete website.
“The coaches care so much about their players and they really try to get to know you,” Sullivan said. “In addition to that, however, the campus is beautiful and the class sizes are small, too, so it’s easier to get to know everybody. It’s just one big family across the entire campus, and everyone knows everybody. It’s just a great environment.”
Sometimes, not winning — or, at least, as much as one would like — could be a deterrent, especially since Valley finished 1-9 and 3-7 the last two years after winning no less than eight games in each of the previous six seasons before that. However, those experiences have brought a different perspective to the table, according to Sullivan.
“It was disappointing at times, but at the end of the day, everyone supported everyone,” Sullivan said. “When it was tough, we had each other’s backs, and we ended up improving a lot from this year to last year, so that was a great feeling to improve and get more wins this year.”
And that’s a perspective that could carry Sullivan on forward through the rest of his life — one that wouldn’t have come about if Crabtree and his staff hadn’t been there to help give the senior the next-level opportunity that has come about in the sport.
“It’s a blessing to have Coach Crabtree,” Sullivan said. “He’s one of the best coaches that you could have, both on and off of the football field. In the classroom, he’s a great person who is always checking up on everybody. You couldn’t ask for anything more than to have him and his coaching staff fighting for you on the football field.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT