Q & A With Stephen Tulloch, Part I

In his sophomore season, Wolfpack linebacker Stephen Tulloch tied for third on the squad in tackles with 52. He also added 14 tackles for losses, a sack, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and five quarterback hurries. By racking up such impressive numbers, no one outside the program could have suspected that the 5-11, 230-pounder out of Killian High School in Miami was fighting through a right shoulder injury that would have sidelined most players.

Can you catch us up to date on your health status and availability for spring practice?
I rehab every day, and it's going real good. My strength is coming back rapidly, so I feel comfortable.

It's hard. Coach [Chuck] Amato [asked] me every day, "How do you feel? How do you feel? Will you be able to play spring?" I said, "Yeah, I want to play spring." But I'm not cleared to play. I feel like I can play, but the doctors won't let me. I feel good about it, though.

I've been watching. I can go through some drills, but no contact or none of that. I love the game of football; I just want to be in there.

Most people aren't aware of how much pain you played in last year with your shoulder injury?
Pain isn't the word … It would fly out [of the socket] every day at practice … Virginia Tech game, it would pop out; Florida State game, it would pop out. It would pop out between games. It's just pain, but I fought through it and I had the surgery and now I feel good. I don't think I'll go through that again.

When did the injury first happen?
It happened my freshman year, the last game of the season, we played Maryland. But it healed. But in summer ball, we were playing and I engaged a blocker and my shoulder popped out. I thought, "OK, this isn't for long." But a couple weeks later, it kept popping out – like six times before the season started. So Coach [Chuck Amato] asked me if I wanted to redshirt and what I thought about that, but I said I couldn't do it. I couldn't sit down and watch those guys play. I wanted to get out there and play, so I fought through it.

How much was the shoulder on your mind as you played?
You're going full speed. As a matter of fact, they ordered me a shoulder brace from the Baltimore Ravens training staff, [because All-Pro linebacker] Ray Lewis had the same injury I had. So we got that in and then put that on me, and I felt real comfortable with it. My arm wasn't hurting as much because I didn't have that much motion. It was fairly tight, so when I did hit, it never really popped out that much. It helped keep it in the socket.

What was your reaction when you heard defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Reggie Herring left for Arkansas?
I was shocked. A lot of people can have great coaches and good coaches, but I've never seen a guy like that before. Unbelievable. To come in there and turn everything [around] -- the No. 1 defense in the country. There's a 117 Division I schools, and for us to be No. 1 is unbelievable. But he's probably the best coach I've ever seen in football.

I learned so much from him. The way he coaches the game … He coaches with passion like he's out there. Everything's perfect. He's always yelling, he's always getting on you. You might make a good play, but he'll get on you about that play because he wants you to make it even better. The guy is a mastermind and he knows everything about the game.

Have you had a chance to meet new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Steve Dunlap?
Yeah. As a matter of fact, me and Coach Dunlap sat down this morning and watched some film. He's a good guy, too, don't get me wrong. He had the No. 1 defense back in 1996 [at West Virginia], I think it was. So he knows what it takes and we have talent still here. The defensive line is still here, we'll have a good linebacking corps. So we're not too worried about it; we'll still be a top defense.

Is it safe to say there's a personality difference between the two?
A lot of coaches have different styles. Coach Herring is more get-in-your-face type guy and yelling at you just to get you ready. Coach Dunlap is kind of a laid-back guy, a player's coach, so to say. He wants you to state your opinion, how do you feel about this, just a lot of techniques. So they're both good coaches.

We've talked about how two of your teammates at Killian High School in Miami, Pat Thomas and Andre Maddox, were almost like big brothers to you here at State. Do you think you'll be filling that same role with two other Killian guys here, Miguel Scott and Bobby Washington?
Definitely. Me and Maddox talked about this yesterday; he came over to my apartment and we were just talking about coming out of high school … The reason I came here, pretty much, was because of Maddox. I used to look up to him as a role model; everybody loves the dude and he is respected by a lot of people.

As far as a role model for Miguel and Bobby, I think definitely … "The Killian Kats," or whatever they call us here, we've got to live up to our names. A lot of great players come out of our high school, and it just so happened that all five of us [were] here.

Miguel is on his way. I think Miguel is having a great offseason so far. He's real agile, real fast; I think you might even see Miguel starting. He's a really good guy. Bobby as well. He had a lot of pressure coming in with all these running backs, but as things go by, I think he'll show himself as well.

But those guys will do OK.

The Wolfpack got no one out of Killian this year. What the heck happened?
Demetrice Morley was probably the biggest player out of Killian this year, but he felt like Tennessee was the school for him. And he's enrolled, I think, already at Tennessee, so he's already in school. I wish him the best of luck, though.

There'll be more, definitely. There'll be more.

Believe it or not, you'll be considered one of the older guys on this defense next year. Is leadership something that comes naturally to you?
I was always the type of guy to lead by example and show it with my on-the-field play and that sort of stuff. But as far as a true leader, I think I can become one. My sophomore year, I had Freddie [Aughtry-Lindsay] and Pat as seniors and I had a chance to compete with Freddie for the spot and I actually won it out and we rotated and stuff like that. So I think the guys probably respect me more now because I am a starter and I showed that I'm a competitor and can compete with a senior for that spot. Those guys look up to me and say, "OK, this guy's a competitor. I know he'll fight for me."

But a lot of people sleep on Pat Lowery. Pat Lowery is a good player, too. It's just unfortunate that Pat Lowery and Oliver [Hoyte] play "Mike" linebacker, but eventually, when it's all said and done, you never know, they might have all three of us on the field at one time. That dude's a good player, too.

You're going to have a seat on the sidelines like a fan this spring. Give us a couple of guys that will surprise the Pack fans this spring.
A couple guys they're not aware of … You know the defensive line is doing real good. But Miguel Scott, not just because he's from my high school, but he's working real hard right now. Jimmie Sutton, his speed is unbelievable. I think that now that the seniors are gone, that will give him a little more of an opportunity to showcase himself. You've got a guy like Jeremy Gray. A lot of people aren't up on Jeremy, but Jeremy's 6-3 and has good speed. He's young, but he'll come along. He's a guy that a lot of people should look out for.

But as far as the ultimate person, I'd say probably Garland Heath. A lot of people don't really know about Garland Heath. He never got a chance; he didn't qualify at one point, he came in and a lot of people underestimated him, [saying] "Who's Garland Heath?" He had Troy [Graham] in front of him, he had Maddox in front of him, he had "Hud" [Marcus Hudson] rotating, too. I think Garland Heath is going to really shock a lot of people, more than anybody.

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