By Thomas Walter, Bucknell Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Kyle Sullivan is an all-around athlete.
He has been one since he was young when he played a variety of different sports. He’s extremely fast, can catch anything thrown at him, and can kick the living daylights out of a football. He’s also smart: really smart.
In an era where college football players tend to focus on one position only, Sullivan is an exception. He is the punter, punt returner, holder on PAT and field goals, and he’s a wide receiver for Bucknell.
“The versatility is something I take pride in and something I love doing for my team,” explains Sullivan, who is averaging nearly 40 yards per punt this season and ranks 13th nationally in punt returns. “I’m very humbled that Coach Susan has the confidence in me to allow me to do more than one thing on the field. It is something I certainly do not take for granted.”
As a senior, an increased sense of responsibility, and the possibility of one more winning season with the Bison under head coach Joe Susan awaited Sullivan when he returned to campus in August.
Prior to high school, Sullivan wasn’t even allowed to play football.
It had always been his first love as a sport, but growing up he played many other sports, including basketball, track, soccer, and baseball. It wasn’t until he was 13 years old that his mom finally allowed him to play the one he wanted to participate in more than anything else.
“I had always wanted to start playing earlier, but my mom held out until I was 13 when my dad and I finally got her to give in,” Sullivan says.
Those different sports would end up benefitting Sullivan. They allowed him to develop a large range of skills. He excelled on the high school football scene, and it was those different skills that caught the eyes of Susan, recruiting coordinator at Rutgers University at the time.
“I was at a high school game during a bye week because I knew the head coach at Sullivan’s school, St. Mark’s, who had said ‘You better watch this kid’,” explains Susan. “He [Sullivan] kicked off into the end zone, returned a punt for a touchdown, returned an interception for a touchdown, and kicked extra points and field goals. Clearly, he was a pretty good athlete.”
Susan encouraged Sullivan to apply and later succeeded in bringing him to Rutgers. The two spent one year together in Piscataway before Susan left for Bucknell. Yet even after Susan departed Rutgers, Sullivan excelled. He was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team as a redshirt punter in 2010.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Rutgers and made a lot of great relationships with a lot of great people. I do not regret my decision to attend Rutgers; it was a wonderful experience for me and a place where I learned a lot both in and outside of the classroom,” explains Sullivan.
Even though Sullivan was enjoying success at Rutgers, something was missing. He had always been an athlete, and now he had been forced into being a one-dimensional player.
“I played a little bit of wide receiver on the scout team my redshirt year, but once I became the starting punter I was only allowed to punt,” says Sullivan, who has one catch in each of Bucknell’s first two games this fall. “There were a great deal of factors that went into my decision to come to Bucknell, but it very much came down to the fact that I just missed playing wide receiver too much. I was only punting at Rutgers and it just wanted the experience I had envisioned.”
Eventually it came time for Sullivan to make a decision. He chose to leave Rutgers and pursue another school where he could be an athlete who plays football.
As Sullivan began looking for new schools, he and Susan crossed paths once more.
As a result of the relationship they had formed at Rutgers it was an easy situation for them both to adjust to when Sullivan arrived on the Bucknell campus in the fall of 2011. Right away Sullivan was thrown into the mix – playing both receiver and punter – but suffered an injury that ended his sophomore season
“He does so many things for us that there are times when you want to protect him,” Susan says. “But, you know he’s got to do his job.”
Last year, during Sullivan’s junior season, everything continued to build towards the vision of what he had always thought his college experience would be. He played wide receiver, returned punts, ranking 33rd nationally, punted, and was a member of the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll. Even though the Bison struggled, Sullivan was an active participant in all parts of the team thanks to his multiple roles.
This year Bucknell is off to a 1-1 start in this very young season. While there is potential for this Bison team to be special, Sullivan won’t allow himself to think about expectations for this squad.
“We still have a lot to see about who and what type of team we are going to be this year,” says Sullivan, who returned a 59-yard punt for a touchdown last weekend, becoming the first Bison player to do so since 2003. “What I do know is that we’re a tough team with a downhill mentality and we will play that way week in and week out.”
It is a mature way of thinking; an aspect that Susan praised Sullivan for.
“He’s an ardent student of the game, and because he was a multiple-sport leader in high school he has always been mature beyond his years,” says Susan. “He has never been a player who you have to tell something to more than once. He absorbs things extremely well and he’s a great role model for the young guys, not just as a receiver, but as a punter and punt returner as well.”
Sullivan was very adamant when asked about his feelings on being a senior.
“I believe every senior has increased their role on the team and accepted more responsibility. We all learned from the upperclassmen when we were younger and now it’s our turn to pass it on.”
While personal happiness is always worth more than the any amount of success someone can achieve, some people never realize that. Sullivan did and made a very drastic change in his life to follow his dream of being an athlete who plays football. The Bison football program gave him the opportunity to do that.
“My college football experience has been something I will always cherish. It’s a small number who can say they have done that and I’m proud to be able to say I am one of them,” says Sullivan. “As for Bucknell, I have nothing but great things to say about this University. The faculty, administration, and coaches have all treated me so well I cannot thank them enough for that. I’m so grateful for being able to be a part of the University and it is something I will always be proud of.”
After Sullivan graduates in May his plans are subject to change – he’d like to pursue a dual-degree program, J.D. and M.B.A after working for a few years – but for now his mind remains focused on football, finishing his last year of college football with a winning record, and continuing to follow his dreams of being an all-around athlete.
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Football Gameday Program.