June 11, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Having bounced around a bit after graduation while trying to decide what to do with his life, Steven Sylvester passed on the possibility of coaching a few times. Each time the thought – or suggestion from others – came up, he’d counter.
Now that the former Georgia Tech linebacker is back on campus and entrenched as a graduate assistant coach (he started in March), he sounds like he’s found a very nice new home . . . or returned to one.
“I was telling [former Tech assistant Brian] Bohannon before he went to Kennesaw State, I don’t think I’ll ever have as much fun doing anything as I did when I was playing college football,” Sylvester said with a smile.
“Even if I had made it to the pros and been a 10- or 15-year vet and made millions of dollars and been a Hall of Famer, the most fun I think I’ll ever have was right here, playing football in college.”
Sylvester graduated in Dec. 2011, after serving as a three-year starter.
His goal was to earn a shot in the NFL, and for the next few months he trained with that in mind. Sylvester got a tryout with the Falcons, but that was as far as that went.
A friend of his father’s helped him line up an internship with the United States Criminal Investigation Lab last summer, and after that two-month gig was up he began management training with Enterprise.
The football bug never stopped biting. It was persistent on Saturdays in the fall.
Among other drawbacks to coaching, though, he pondered the transient nature of the game. “You can be here today, and gone tomorrow and that’s one of the things that deterred me in the beginning,” he said.
“One day I want to have a family, and be able to settle down and not have to worry about being in Atlanta one day and then the next day having to move cross-country the next. But I think it’s a little early to be thinking about that.”
Sylvester has thought about it, though, and so when the bug kept biting and he decided he wanted back in the game, he danced around the prospect of coaching the sport.
A loquacious young man with a warm smile and contagious manner, he considered jumping behind the microphone. To that end, he contacted Dean Buchan, Tech’s assistant athletic director for media relations.
“My degree is in communications, and I thought I wanted to go into play-by-play. I called Dean, and said, ‘If I wanted to get into that, how would I start?’ ” Sylvester recalled. “He said, ‘To be honest, I think you’d make a pretty good coach.’ “
Steven had heard that before, and he kept hearing it.
“Both parents said the same thing, ‘You can talk to people, you know the game,’ and everybody kept saying it.”
So in the midst of last season, when the bug was champing at a fever pitch, Sylvester went to head coach Paul Johnson. In October, “I said, ‘If I wanted to go that route, what advice do you have for me?’
“He told me that graduate assistant is probably the way to go these days, and to put all my feelers out there.”
That became an undertaking.
Sylvester wrote most, perhaps all, of the coaches who recruited him out of McDonough’s Union Grove High School in 2008. Many are at different schools now. “They all let me know they didn’t have anything, but if they did they would let me know.”
Johnson was among the coaches who’d responded.
Then, in late February, while Sylvester was still at Enterprise, Tech assistant Buzz Preston called him and suggested that, “We may have a [GA] leaving; a position may open up. I’d advise you to stop by and let coach Johnson know you’re still interested.’ “
So that’s what he did. Then, a whirlwind came.
“I sat down with coach Johnson for a little while, and he said, ‘We won’t know anything until probably later in the spring or toward the summer, so I’ll keep you in mind.’ I said, ‘That’s all I can ask.’
“He called me the next day, and told me, ‘The guy decided to take a full-time job at Yale. Do you still want the position?’ I said yeah.”
And here Sylvester is now, “kind of a jack of all trades.”
He won’t return to classes until fall begins (he’ll be in Building Construction and Facilities Management), yet he’s been busy for a few months. He worked with running backs in spring practice (he was a fine one in high school, and is able to offer unique insight as to how linebackers attack backs).
“There has been a lot of film breakdown, a lot of numbers, seeing what plays were more efficient, helping out with recruiting,” he said. “It’s been whatever needs to be done, or the coach doesn’t have time to do.”
Graduate assistants, who currently include Sylvester’s former teammate Ben Anderson, cannot be involved in recruiting off campus, but they can help when prospects are on campus.
Sylvester listed that duty as his favorite work to date.
“When we have a junior day or big recruiting weekends and we have a chance to talk to the parents, it’s a little different for them hearing it from somebody who played here for four years recently,” he explained. “People hear things about Georgia Tech.
“The coaches can only tell them so much. I can tell a guy or his parents . . . here’s how it really is. All positive.”
That brought the big Sylvester grin again.
It might be suggested that he’s taking a step backward in order to move forward.
Graduate assistants receive a modest stipend, food, housing and tuition. He said, “It’s kind of like being a scholarship player again,” except that most of his former teammates and fellow graduates have moved well into their money-making days.
Still, this appears to have worked out well for Sylvester. Had he landed as a graduate assistant at somewhere like Georgia Southern or Mississippi State, both places where he contacted former recruiters, “I would have no bearings,” he said.
“Being here, if I have to get home, I can get there in 30 minutes. If somebody asks me where a building is, I can tell them it’s right around the corner.”
There so often seem to be corners.
Life as a graduate assistant is not open-ended, and it’s not uncommon for a young man to leave a position before earning a graduate degree. Sylvester does not have all the answers as to how his future will unfold.
“You can get a full-time job right in the middle of it,” he said. “I’m just kind of glad to be here, and along for the ride.”
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