In his final season, Chandon Sullivan, perhaps the best defensive back in Georgia State history, just wants to return to a bowl game.
Sullivan, a 21-year-old senior from Winder, is a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference cornerback. He’s started all four seasons at GSU. His six interceptions and 19 passes defended are the best in school history.
Last season perhaps was his best: Sullivan earned All-Sun Belt honors and CoSIDA Academic All-District honors for the second consecutive year. He had three interceptions, four pass deflections, a tackle for loss and a blocked kick.
“Individual accolades don’t really matter,” he said. “We work too hard; it’s a team sport. I just want to win by any means, whatever that means is. Just do whatever I can day in and day out to be a leader.”
Sullivan showed off his playmaking ability last season in Wisconsin, where his interception led to a drive where GSU took the lead on the No. 9 Badgers, despite ultimately coming up short of an upset. With Sullivan in the secondary, the Panthers were the only FBS team that didn’t allow an offensive play longer than 50 yards on the year.
“As a corner you always want to protect the deep ball,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to give up any completions. I know I gave up some underneath in zone because that’s the way we design it on our defense. But at the end of the day, it’s all about winning.”
As individual accolades pour in, Sullivan is adamant his priority is helping his defense, a defense that played well in Week 1, but couldn’t overcome a lousy GSU offense in a 17-10 loss against Tennessee State.
“We played well, but we still gave up too many points,” Sullivan said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to shut teams down. Start out faster, finish stronger.”
GSU cornerbacks coach Sam Shade graded each of his four primary corners above 80 percent in the opener. Sullivan temporarily was sidelined with cramps, but contributed a couple of pass breakups in the end zone that helped keep the game within reach.
Coaching Sullivan has been a treat for Shade, because he’s working with a veteran leader. Sullivan often emphasizes being great on and off the field, and while it’s reflected in his academic honors, it’s also noticed by his coaches.
“It’s been good because he’s a kid that’s played a lot of football,” Shade said. “He’s had some success playing. He’s a kid that’s mentally sharp, has a really good football IQ, learns things pretty quickly. He goes out and tries to apply what he’s learned. He competes hard. It’s been a lot of fun for me to get to know him and the rest of the guys since January.”
Sullivan and fellow senior defensive back B.J. Clay led the team in the offseason, according to Shade. With a new staff coming in, and NCAA regulations limiting their time with players, the two seniors took charge.
“He and B.J. Clay, my two seniors, those guys really took it upon themselves to really be leaders with this group, especially after spring practice,” Shade said. “There was a period after spring practice up until training camp, with us as a coaching staff, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with the guys because of NCAA rules, so that’s when you need your older guys that’ve been in the system to step up and really lead and command those younger guys.”
Shade played at the University of Alabama, becoming a fourth-round pick in 1995. He played with the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins until 2002. In Sullivan, he sees a guy who could catch eyes at the next level.
“Not a lot of guys get that opportunity,” Shade said. “A lot of guys even get there and just because of numbers don’t make it. I saw a lot of guys come and go when it was just because of numbers. So it’s a numbers game up there. He brings a lot of good attributes to the table. Hopefully he can continue to progress this season and God-willing stay healthy. You never know what might happen.”
Sullivan is doing his best to not only make it, but not be crunched in the numbers game. He’s worked to add weight, improve his technique and IQ.
“More film, hitting the weight room harder, running, conditioning; just all areas of the game,” he said. “I’m just trying to put myself in the best position to achieve my dream one day.”
To do that, he’ll need 2017 to be his most impressive campaign. His fondest memories at GSU are defeating Georgia Southern and especially making a bowl game in 2015. The Panthers made the Cure Bowl, losing 27-16 to San Jose State.
The school’s second bowl appearance is within reach, Sullivan said, and he wants to make it happen.
“Just going to a bowl game with our guys,” he said. “I know what that meant. I know how much work that took. If we can get back to that point this season, that’d be great.”