After Alabama junior safety Vinnie Sunseri broke open the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Virginia Tech with a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second quarter, he was quick to credit film study.
"They showed that play a couple of times during the week with Coach [Kirby] Smart and Coach [Nick] Saban in the meetings," Sunseri said following the 35-10 win. "Once I saw that play, I was just happy I had the opportunity to make it."
It wasn't the first film session for Sunseri, who grew up dissecting football footage.
The 6-foot, 200-pounder from Tuscaloosa is the son of current Florida State defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri, who was Tennessee's defensive coordinator last year. Before his one-year stint with the Volunteers, Sunseri coached Alabama's inside linebackers from 2009 to '11.
Before that, he had a seven-year run as defensive line coach of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, which is when his son remembers his first study sessions.
"I was like 6 or 7 years old," Sunseri said. "I would just sit there and watch him draw up cards and ask his players why certain teams were doing this or that. A lot of those indicators I have taken with me. He's my idol, and I love him to death."
Saban loves having Sunseri and his knowledge of the game, especially given this week's challenge of trying to slow explosive Texas A&M.
Sunseri was a special teams force as a true freshman in 2011 and also was the dime back for the Crimson Tide in their final three games of the season, which included the 21-0 skunking of LSU in the BCS title game. Last season as the dime back, which is used when six defensive backs are needed, he had eight starts in 14 games and finished fourth on the team with 54 tackles.
"Sometimes as coaches, we assume that players know how to watch film and how to study film and what they need to be looking at," Saban said. "If you don't teach them and they're not with guys who can point out things to them, they really don't get as much out of it. So I think it's important having guys like Vinnie, and HaHa [Clinton-Dix] is a little like that, too, and so is Nick Perry.
"We've got some safeties who are really bright guys and have been in the system for a long time, and I think they really help players understand things."
Sons of coaches are often labeled heady and smart to mask a lack of athleticism, but Saban said Sunseri does not fit into that category.
Sunseri's interception against the Hokies was the third of his career and the first he returned for a touchdown. He had interceptions last season against Arkansas and Missouri, when Alabama was marching to a second consecutive national championship.
Things weren't going as well for his father a year ago, as Tennessee allowed 37 or more points in eight of its last 10 games.
"That was pretty tough, because it's hard to see your dad struggle like that," Sunseri said. "You're always wanting the best for your family members, but he's in a great situation right now. I'm excited to see what Florida State can do."
A day after Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin announced that Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel would not be speaking to the media this week, ESPN announced Wednesday that analyst Kirk Herbstreit would have a one-on-one interview with Manziel. The interview is scheduled to take place today, with the segment running Saturday.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...