Many freshmen enter their first years of college with a deer in the headlights look. The key is how quickly they can move past that stage and adapt to the speed and higher level of play in the college game. For UVa defender Kyler Sullivan, his first game experience certainly was a learning one - he started and played a half against nationally ranked West Virginia before UVa coach George Gelnovatch pulled him at halftime. Sullivan played just once in the next eight games and continued to work hard before earning a starting nod Sept. 30 at Clemson. Since then, he has played well and not relinquished that spot, and UVa is 5-1-1 in that stretch. Sullivan is the focus of Off the Pitch this week.
How did you get started in soccer?
Sullivan: My dad got me into soccer. He signed me up pretty early when I was about four years old. Once I started playing, I just fell in love with the game. He played when he was younger and he got me into it. From there on, I fell in love with it and kept going.
Talk about playing against your current teammate, Ryan Zinkhan, while the two of you were growing up in northern Virginia.
Sullivan: Zinkhan was one of the best players in the Commonwealth and we played against each other all four years. I had to mark him. He beat me, and I took a few from him. We would keep going back and forth. I heard during our junior year that he was going to UVa, and I knew that was one of my top schools. Once I knew he was going there, I knew they were going to have a great class, so I committed soon after that.
Why did you choose UVa?
Sullivan: Soccer was probably the biggest thing because they have some of the best players in the country. When I was being recruited, they had just won the national championship, and that was a big factor. They were for sure the best team looking at me, so I had to take that opportunity. My parents definitely influenced me as well. They fell in love with the school when they came with one of my cousins, and I fell in love with it when they brought me here too.
Talk about your first college game against WVU. Was your head spinning?
Sullivan: The WVU guys were very good soccer players but at the same time they were very athletic, so it definitely caught me off guard. I was already very nervous, so playing against some of the best kids in the country definitely got the best of me. I didn't have the greatest game so coach took me out and it was a good thing he did because I got to see the game from a different point of view and it gave me a better perspective of what I should be doing.
You barely played over the next month, but how did you get back in the mix?
Sullivan: There was a week where I practiced well and then I had an opportunity to get back into a starting spot. I had to take it, and I did. I played pretty well against Clemson and then I got my spot back.
How did the Kyler Sullivan against WVU differ from the Kyler Sullivan against Clemson?
Sullivan: I definitely gained confidence. If you go out nervous, you may be able to use some of that energy to your advantage but at the same time you're going to be giving balls away and you're going to put your head down when you mess up. If you play with confidence, you know you'll be able to make that hard pass and you'll be able to sprint back when you need to. That confidence is exactly what you need.
You play alongside three seniors on defense who started in the national championship game in 2009 (Mike Volk, Greg Monaco, Hunter Jumper). What kind of wisdom have they imparted on you?
Sullivan: They definitely have made me a better player. They aren't the type of players who just yell at you when you mess up. They encourage me all the time, and I think that's what has built my confidence. If I had anybody else in the back, my confidence would not be there but they are always there for me and encouraging me. They know I'm young, so they're playing with me and doing everything to keep my confidence high. I'm so thankful that I can play with them because it will help me for the next four years here.
Did you play any other sports growing up?
Sullivan: I used to play roller hockey all the time when I was younger in my neighborhood. I played with one of the older kids, and he would whack me with his sticks all the time, but I think that really helped build my toughness.
Movie: Superbad or Friends with Benefits
Music: R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap, but I'm really open to anything.
Artist: Chris Brown
Sport: Football or Roller Hockey
Pro Sports Team: Manchester United
Class: My ENWR - the topic is rock music, and it's opened my horizons to a lot of new music. It's awesome. I just wrote a summary about The Beatles, and The Beatles' Rock Band was always fun since I used to play Rock Band all the time.
Spot on Grounds: The Corner
TV show: Scrubs or That 70s Show