By Cecil Shorts III
In April 2012, I was playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars and we just started OTA’s. Coach Sullivan was our wide receiver coach at the time. He was in the front of the room writing the depth chart on the whiteboard. As he writes on the board, he explains why each player was assigned a specific position, either outside or inside wide receiver. I’m watching the names go up on the board: Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Mike Thomas, Brian Robiskie, Taylor Price, Chastin West. The names kept going up and my heart started to drop. I was like okay, when will my name be called upon. When will my name be written on the board? He stops writing and tells us we need to make sure we’re ready to go on Monday. He explained the importance of the upcoming practices, but my mind was like this dude really did not write my name on the board. I raised my hand and asked about my position. He says “Oh, yeah” and writes my name last on the board. LAST. Damn near forgotten about and writes my name last with no explanation. He says, “Just know everything.” That moment changed my whole life. The year before was my rookie year I had no clue how to be a pro, didn’t have a great season, had only 2 catches the whole season after having a promising training camp and making plays throughout preseason. To say the least, I had my work cut out for me. The moment when Coach forgot to write my name on the board, and then seeing my name last, I told myself I’m going to make this team! The odds were up against me. They just paid two guys in Laurent Robinson and Mike Thomas and drafted Justin Blackmon with the 5th pick. I didn’t know how, but I knew I was going to do everything I possibly could to make this team.
From that point on, I went over and beyond when it came to working!!
This was Coach Sullivan’s first year in Jacksonville, and he came with this “guru” reputation. He was the like the godfather of running routes and releases. Sullivan has coached and mentored guys like Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. He coached at every level and even was an offensive coordinator for a few teams in the NFL. Sullivan has been coaching either college or pro since 1971 so I totally bought into what he was teaching. Some of the techniques were not familiar to me and even silly. One of his techniques to run a curl route was called the “hippity hop.” The drill is to help you get your footwork down for the curl route, which happened to be a hard route for me to run. The drill is all proper foot placements. You literally jog 5 yards to the cone, jump off your inside leg, land with your outside leg and take 3 steps, then use that 3rd step to push back to the QB. Sounds confusing, right? Now picture a 60-something years old man demonstrating that to us everyday!! Not only did he demonstrate this, but also releases and routes. He was extremely detailed, passionate and wanted things run his way. It was his way or the highway.
As you could imagine, I had to buckle down and learn the techniques, releases, everything. I was going to make this team. Everywhere I went, I would focus on my routes and releases. I would walk around the mall doing releases he taught us from practice. Pretending random people were defensive backs, and I was trying to get open. Even in my apartment, I ran routes, focusing on whatever technique we were working on. This was my dream, my opportunity, my job, my passion and I could not let this slip away.
At the end of OTAs it was safe to say I moved up the depth chart. Odds were still against me, but I was making plays daily in practice and learning the releases and techniques that Coach Sullivan was teaching. He was impressed and actually set up my summer workouts for me before training camp. He called a friend of his, one of the guys he has coached and mentored for years, Larry Fitzgerald. Coach then called me and said “Listen, I want you to go to Minnesota and train with Fitz.” I said, “Hell yeah, coach, sign me up!!” This was crazy. Somebody I admired and looked up I get to work out with somebody I admired and looked up to. There was no doubt I was taking this opportunity. Coming from a Division 3 school and now getting a chance to train with a Hall of Famer, I was in there! I was pumped, but I also knew I was gaining some respect from Coach and the team. This was something I had to take advantage of. I headed up to Minnesota, and I was nervous. I don’t know anybody, just trusting Coach Sullivan and his people. When I arrived, I met a man everybody calls “Uncle Lou.” If you know, you know! Uncle Lou is a kind genuine man that literally knows everybody in the sports world and everybody loves and respects him. He’s awesome. Anyways I get to meet Fitz and then head to my hotel. Just meeting him was enough motivation for me. I went to bed thinking this is about to happen, lets go!!!
The next day, I wake up early, eat breakfast and wait for my ride to the University of Minnesota campus, where we worked out. I had a game mentality so I was so pumped up and excited. The workout starts and it’s about 15-20 of us grinding. A good mix of NFL guys, some from the area coming home to workout, others from various teams. Can you guess who was the hardest working guy there each day for the two weeks I was there?? Larry freaking Fitzgerald. That blew my mind. I knew how good he was on the field, but to see the work he put in behind the scenes was unreal. He worked like he was broke, like he was an undrafted rookie trying to make the team. It wasn’t just on the field during routes or running, it was also off the field and how he takes care of his body. He made sure he went over and beyond to take care of his body each day. Everything I saw him do in those short two weeks taught me how to be a pro. I took all of that and brought it back to Jacksonville with me. By the time camp came around, I was ready to roll. I was told every day to make a play that stands out; blocking on a run play, running a good route, showing effort on special teams or making a diving catch. Be noticed daily!!! That’s exactly what I did, but I was still fighting for my life. There were 7 or 8 wide receivers that could have made the final roster. Thank God I ended up making the roster as the number 4th or 5th guy!! I was pumped, but wanted more.
The first game comes around versus Minnesota, where I trained that summer with Fitz. The first third down of the game, I catch a under route for the first down. I was crazy pumped!! But after that, I didn’t see much time. I was only getting playing time on certain packages. It was a close game, and we had the ball. We were down a few points with under 2 minutes, so naturally we get in our 2-minute offense. The first play, I run a short post and the QB Blaine hits me for 20 yards. We run a few more plays then BOOOOOOOMMMM!! I run a go route, Blaine drops a dime and we score!! There were less than 30 seconds left, and I caught a bomb for a TD!! We went nuts!! This year was full of opportunities for myself. I ended up starting week 9 of the season, never looking back as I was having my best year as a pro: 55 catches, 979 yards and 7 touchdowns. When my opportunity came, I made the most of it. I was ready and prepared. Coach Sullivan and I became great friends. Even until this day, I think the only reason I played in the NFL for as long as I did was because of him. At times, he was the only one that believed in me and he gave me the opportunity. I can’t thank him enough. When your time comes, make sure your ready to seize that moment!!!
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