Sturdivant runs with the bulls

HE HASN'T DONNED A VANDAL UNIFORM since the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, but former Idaho tailback DEVON STURDIVANT has been busy. Writer/Photographer Larry Johnson recently caught up with Sturdivant, who is currently living in Madrid, and files this update on Idaho's 2009 Special Teams Captain.

Editor's Note: As part of the background for our story looking back at the 2004 football recruiting class earlier this year, Writer/Photographer Larry Johnson reconnected with former Vandal tailback Devon Sturdivant while living abroad in Europe. During our conversation his passion about his current work and about his experience at the University of Idaho became apparent, and we thought Vandals fans would enjoy his comments and descriptions. As far as we know, Devon Sturdivant and Eric Greenwood are the only Vandal players brave enough -- or foolish enough, depending on your perspective -- to have run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, joining the ranks of former Idaho head coaching great and avid adventurer John L. Smith.

LJ: First of all, we just want to find out what you are up to these days?

DS: "At the moment I've been teaching English at a bilingual school [in Spain], and I came here in 2012 after living in the Seattle area. Seattle is more of a job market for accountants and people with degrees in IT and engineering. I was working on getting an accounting degree but didn't get accepted to the university [University of Washington], so I decided to do something a little different for a while."

LJ: And where are you teaching now?

DS: "I'm teaching at primary schools, elementary schools."

LJ: Is life in Spain what you expected, or is it different than what you expected?

DS: "I don't know what I was expecting when I got here. I remember the very first thing; I was just kind of thrown into the fire. The teacher I worked with kind of stood me in front of the class, had me introduce myself, and then teach them this, teach them that, and it was really interesting because here are all of these kids just staring and waiting to follow your lead, and you have to perform under such immense pressure, I guess you would say."

LJ: What did you study at the University of Idaho?

DS: "When I was at the University of Idaho I studied sociology, criminal justice, and Spanish."

LJ: Wow. Okay. I didn't know there were three. I remembered a long time ago speaking to you, and I knew it was criminal justice and something else. I didn't know you did the Spanish part too.

DS: "Criminal justice and justice studies, as they called it, and sociology all kind of went hand-in-hand, and many had the same requirements so it made it easier. Spanish was to be obtained through studying abroad."

LJ: When did you graduate from Idaho?

DS: "I graduated from Idaho the spring of 2010."

LJ: I believe you were recruited in 2004, is that correct?

DS: "Yes. Holt and his coaching staff were the ones who recruited me.

LJ: At that time you played high school football in Boise. Is that correct?

DS: Yes. I was living in Boise playing at Timberline High School. That's when I first met all of the new coaching staff for U of I.

Editor's Note: Nick Holt became the Idaho Head Football Coach in December of 2003 and quickly assembled his staff of assistants, who immediately started assembling the recruiting class of 2006, which was the first of Holt's three recruiting classes for the Vandal football team.

LJ: Can you go back and describe, now that it's been all these years, what that recruiting process was like?

DS: "I remember coaches would come to the high school, introduce themselves, let you know whom they played for or who they worked for; that they'd be watching you. It just kind of makes you feel like -- it's flattering, but nerve wracking, because all of a sudden people are watching you, and you put yourself under pressure to perform better to impress these coaches because you want to go to these schools. It's amazing that people come all this way just to see you, just to keep tabs on you, and to talk to you and say "hi," you know? You get letters in the mail from the university asking you to fill out the profile and send it back to them, or you'd hear they were at the game and watching you, and it's incredible. It just makes you feel really good and just gives you that energy. Once you get into recruiting season where you can talk to them more, it's really interesting the things they say to you about how they're building the program, how you'll fit in, and how they're putting together a team they want you to be a part of; this big vision that they have. You go on the recruiting trip and you get sucked into the atmosphere. You watch them play the games. It's nothing short of magic, to be honest with you."

LJ: I really was interested in your perspective. Which members of the staff recruited you?

DS: "It was Coach Holt and Coach Kaczor."

Editor's Note: In February of 2006 – the day after National Letter of Intent day - Nick Holt left Idaho for USC where he worked as a defensive assistant coach. A few years later he followed Steve Sarkesian to Washington where Holt became the Defensive Coordinator. From Washington he became the Recruiting Coordinator, under former Idaho coach John L. Smith, at the University of Arkansas. After one season, Holt became the Defensive Coordinator for Bobby Petrino at Western Kentucky. Nate Kaczor is currently an Assistant Coach in the NFL and working for the Tennessee Titans. Kaczor coached at Louisiana Monroe and then worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars before joining the staff with the New Orleans Saints.

LJ: Oh yeah, Nate Kaczor. He is with the Tennessee Titans now.

DS: "Yeah. It seems like a lot of former Vandals are with NFL teams. It's really good to see them around."

LJ: They're all over. I've managed to find out where all of Holt's staff is today. I keep in touch with a few of them. I remember Nate quite well and of course I remember Nick Holt. I also still keep in touch with Joel Thomas who is now at Arkansas.

DS: "He moved back to Arkansas?"

LJ: Last season he was the running back coach at Arkansas. So, it was primarily Nate Kaczor and Nick Holt who were recruiting you to come to Idaho; you got there in 2004 and did you redshirt?

DS: "It was a whole grey shirt."

LJ: That's right. You grey shirted. So you actually enrolled in January of 2005, is that correct?

DS: "Yes."

LJ: Then you redshirted the 2005 season, or did you play that season?

DS: "I redshirted the 2005 season. Towards the end of camp we were having live drills, or a scrimmage, I'm not exactly sure. I remember running one way with the ball and someone was holding me up, a defensive lineman I think, and someone's helmet hit me in the knee. I just remember it didn't hurt, but I finished running and I noticed something was off, that I couldn't quite walk without falling to one side or the other. I jogged off and I knew something was wrong, and after a little medical analysis and MRIs it was a tear and it needed to be repaired. Unfortunate, but it happens."

LJ: So that means you stepped on the field for the first time in 2006.

DS: "Yes, under Dennis Erickson."

LJ: Right. So then you played four years, is that correct? Four seasons?

DS: "Yes, under that season of Erickson, then the next couple seasons under Robb Akey."

LJ: Then your eligibility would have expired at the end of the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009?

DS: "Yeah. That was the last time."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sturdivant was voted the Special Teams Captain for the 2009 team

LJ: That must have been an exciting experience to play in that bowl game.

DS: "It was good to get on the field, and of course you always want to do more, but having all those plays on special teams was much better than just sitting on the sidelines. My freshman year, watching, you want to help, you want to contribute, you want to do something, and it feels really good to get in and to do something."

LJ: Do you keep in touch with any of the staff, Holt's staff, Erickson's staff or Akey's staff?

DS: "No, unfortunately. The last person that I saw was coach Joel Thomas when he was at the University of Washington and he came up to me during the Humanitarian Bowl. When we had our bowl game, the Humanitarian Bowl, he was down there (Boise) and we had played against his team. He was at the University of Washington at the time, and he was telling me congratulations. He was telling me that each week on special teams they go after a specific guy, the person who causes a lot of trouble on special teams -- a really good person, like a key person to block. He told me he had his guys coming after me because I was that guy. It made me feel really good, like I was playing really well. It was really great to hear that from him, because seeing him play, seeing his highlight tapes, he was an amazing player. To have that come from him, it was one of the biggest compliments I could have ever received, I felt."

LJ: Do you keep in touch with any players from the team? Obviously Eric Greenwood was with you when you ran with the bulls. Do you keep in touch with any other players?

DS: "As you know, we live in a day and age where we have Facebook and all of that; so it's much easier to know what's going on in each other's lives versus five or six years ago when that kind of stuff didn't exist. I keep in touch most with some of the people who played for a season or two, like Thomas Quarles for example. I speak with Rolly Lumbala often and some of the other Vandals, we chat as well, and it's good to maintain that contact."

LJ: Do you keep in touch with any of the coaches?

DS: "Unfortunately no. I have no idea where any of them are. I haven't seen any of them in quite a while."

LJ: How long have you been in Madrid?

DS: "This is my second year here."

LJ: How did you go from living in Seattle to getting a job at a primary school in Madrid? That's a pretty interesting arc there.

DS: "What happened was the spring of my last year there at Idaho I set it up to study abroad in Madrid, actually. I studied abroad my last semester of university and returned home, finally got myself a job, and after about two years the program coordinators for the study abroad – it's run out of Reno – the woman sent me a link telling me about teaching in Spain. It was through the Ministry of Education, and it was an opportunity that I couldn't turn down. I just thought it was something amazing. I had wanted to go back to Europe, and there it was before me. I did all the paper work and they accepted me, and as quick as I could I came over. Having looked back I've enjoyed every minute of it."

LJ: What were you doing in Seattle before you returned to Madrid?

DS: "I had applied to be a police officer and tried to do other things, but I didn't quite make the cut. They were having hiring freezes at the time. I was fortunate to land a job at a recreation center where my mother worked; so I was working with some great people there. My boss and my coworkers were fantastic, but I just couldn't refuse such an opportunity. I really like the area that we worked in. It was great, and the Seattle weather, believe it or not, I love that kind of weather, the rain reminds me of home in North Carolina. But, as I said, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to come back to Madrid, a place that I just enjoyed thoroughly."

LJ: You said North Carolina was home; so where were you born?

DS: "I was born in San Antonio, Texas. My mother was in the military. I was raised in North Carolina. The weather there, the thunderstorms and the heavy rain during the summer, all that is all a part of my fond memories growing up, and it was funny that I ended up playing football, because when we were younger all we played was basketball. I remember my uncle who used to throw the football to me. He'd throw it so hard that it would hurt trying to catch it. I thought to myself there was no way I could ever play football. Once I moved to Boise at 15 the irony is that's what I ended up playing because I just didn't have the finesse for basketball anymore."

LJ: What brought you to Boise? Did your family move there?

DS: "Yes. My mother got married and got a house there. It was time for us to move out to Idaho and start with our lives there. It was difficult, but everyone has to do a difficult move at some point in his or her lives."

LJ: How do you look back on your experiences of going to school in Moscow?

DS: "I liked it a lot. Of course, I still have dreams that I wish I could have a couple more carries. But I wouldn't change what happened, not even the way things happened. To win the way we did our senior year…for me, I don't think anything could have been better than that. All the downs of losing and then to finally come out on top. And just to be able to put those demons to bed for that season is an incredible feeling to be only the second class to bring that trophy home, to bring that ring home, to bring some pride back to our university. Those are great things, I am glad I happened to be at the University of Idaho. I met great people, great friends, and we as athletes supported each other thoroughly. I'm sure you saw us, groups of football players, supporting the volleyball girls at games. Likewise, going to basketball games. We all went to each other's events and supported each other. That was camaraderie through our interactions with one another through friendships. We were kind of an extended family, which is great to have. People just don't understand how good that is to maintain those relationships."

LJ: Do you keep track of Vandal football these days? Probably you do over the Internet I presume, right?

DS: "Yup. I've looked at it over the Internet. You know, it seems like they are really close at times. I still remember the Northern Illinois game. I didn't get to watch it, but kept track over the Internet how they were playing Northern Illinois, and they had it; just unfortunately it slipped out at the end. That's a Top 20 team in the country, and there we are, pound-for-pound with them. It shows you the heights we can reach. We've just got to put it all together again."

LJ: That team last season, they had 49 freshmen on a 98-man roster. That's a lot of youth. Games like that, where they are hanging with somebody that good and actually taking it to them, and had a great shot to win at the end. The Vandals showed promise in what they're trying to do with their spread read option. But there's a lot of youth out there, a lot of inexperience, to go hang with the Florida's and the LSU's of the world right now.

DS: "It's nice we're not afraid to play anyone. We've kept that mentality. We played the national champions and other big SEC teams there this year. We have definitely got the hearts to walk into the lion's den."

LJ: What do you do for fun in Madrid?

DS: "Madrid is a city where if one wants, one can stay out all night. There is something to do all over the city. It's the biggest city I have ever physically lived in, and it's an amazing metropolis. Sometimes I really, really enjoy traveling around Spain and to other countries. It's quite easy over here; so I am soaking up cultures, soaking up knowledge, learning history, appreciating architecture and making friends, developing a night life I guess you could say. On my week I live with a host family; on my weekends I sometimes go hiking or go to their parents' town and have a nice lunch together. I'll do things like play video games with my friends back home in the US or read a nice book."

LJ: I personally spent time in Barcelona and Tarragona and Seches all along the Mediterranean coast there years ago on projects; so I'm familiar with it. I enjoyed it myself… very nice. I enjoyed the food and the wine, the people were great, and I could ride the trains and I knew enough Spanish to read the signs and order dinner and that sort of thing. It's quite an interesting tale where you get out of Idaho and you end up in Seattle as one thing, and that could be probably anybody's story. But then to go from there all the way to Madrid and now you are teaching English in school and enjoying Europe. That's quite a story. I guess you never envisioned it would quite go that way.

DS: "Never in my life."

LJ: So you would say it's a complete surprise on your end?

DS: "It is. I guess it's like a lot of people say, just living the dream. It really is a dream. It's crazy. It's like a new adventure every month. I'm very fortunate and definitely counting my lucky stars that I've been able to do everything that I've done."

LJ: I've got to ask you this question. I am probably going to do my best Robb Akey imitation, but "How on earth did you and Big E wind up running with the bulls in Pamplona? I've just got to know.

DS: "You know, it's kind of interesting because my first year studying abroad I told myself that was what I was going to do. I remember showing Treshawn Robinson and Marsel Posey the big deal with the bulls running through the streets, and I told them this is what I was gonna do. They said, ‘You're crazy. Look at those things.'

I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.'"

Devon Sturdivant and Eric Greenwood

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