It won’t be the first time Eli Sullivan has set foot on Folsom Field. It almost certainly will be the last, at least in full pads with his team colors proudly on display.
When Sullivan was a kid daydreaming on that Folsom turf, the colors he visu alized always were black and gold. But dreams change, and Sullivan, a former three-sport star at Longmont High, was going to be grateful for whatever opportunity allowed him a chance to play Division I football.
That opportunity arrived not from his home state team, but from Colorado’s longtime rivals at Nebraska. When the Buffs and the 25th-ranked Cornhuskers collide for the 71st time — and the first time in Boulder in 10 years — Saturday afternoon at Folsom (1:35 p.m., FOX), it will be a dream come true for Sullivan, a fourth-year junior safety with the Huskers.
“It will be super special,” Sullivan said. “I did actually grow up a Buffs fan. Was a Buffs fan most of my life. Obviously that had to change. That’s out the door and that’s old news. Now we’re here and we’re dressed all in red ready to beat anyone who lines up across from us.
“It will be a special moment. It’s a field I stepped on a few times before as a little kid. You’re a little kid and you’re visualizing yourself on a college field, like maybe this could be me one day. I don’t know if it ever was in white and red, but I couldn’t be more proud of going there in white and red now. It will be exciting. We’ll have a ton of fans and family that might have a black shirt on for CU, but they might wear a red shirt underneath.”
Sullivan confessed that at the outset of his senior year at Longmont, he wasn’t sure which sport he might pursue after high school. Sullivan was a junior during a magical school year in 2014-15, playing a key role on the Longmont football and boys basketball teams that both finished as the Class 4A state runner-up. Sullivan was the Trojans’ leading receiver that year, recording 50 receptions for 661 yards and four touchdowns. As a senior he rushed for 524 yards and seven touchdowns.
Also a track standout, Sullivan eventually focused on football, realizing there always would be a pickup game he could join or a track to race around later in life. Sullivan said he was offered a handful of walk-on opportunities from Mountain West Conference programs but never discussed any similar invitation at CU under former coach Mike MacIntyre.
At Nebraska, Sullivan redshirted in 2016 before getting a taste of the action on special teams, appearing in five games in 2017 and seven last year. In last week’s surprisingly tight season-opening win against South Alabama, Sullivan posted more tackles (4) than he had the previous two seasons combined (3). Still a walk-on, he enters this week at No. 3 at one of the safety spots on Nebraska’s depth chart and likely will get to sprint down the Folsom turf Saturday on the Huskers’ special teams units.
“I talked to a few people, just recruiters and players that did it in the past, and they said the physical ability is there. It’s just how you put your life into the game, how you put your mind into the game, and how much you give the game,” Sullivan said. “It will come back out. The game will give it right back to you. I just trusted all that. Now, a couple years down the road, we’re starting to see what it can give back.
“I always prided myself on being the best at knowing what I’m supposed to do on the field. Even knowing what the guy next to me has to do and how that might affect me. I know that special teams is such a big part of the game, especially at this level, one play can change a game. Being on special teams the last couple years has helped me develop as a player.”