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Wednesday March 3rd, 2021 1:58PM

After stint coaching NFL, Sutulovich still has passion

By The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — At Cherokee Bluff, he’s happy with being known simply as ‘Coach Stully.’

However, Eric Sutulovich is being modest when he downplays his impact as the football special teams coordinator for the Bears.

The 46-year-old was a 14-year assistant coach in the NFL.

Sutulovich is the only man roaming the Cherokee Bluff sideline on Fridays who has also been part of a Super Bowl coaching staff.

After spending his final nine years as assistant special teams coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons (2009-2017), he decided with his wife, Melissa, to plant permanent roots in Flowery Branch and continue raising their four children in the Cherokee Bluff school district.

“We loved living here in Flowery Branch,” said Sutulovich, who got his nickname when he was a tight end at Louisiana Tech by his offensive line coach, Petey Perot. “I love what they have going here at Cherokee Bluff and things really fell in to place for us to stay here.”

Even though he has a full-time job as partner in Suwanee-based Rapid Response Roofing and Restoration, ‘Stully’s’ competitive juices still flow for football. He spends the first part of the day doing work-related projects, but his mind never strays far from football.

Then, about midafternoon, Sutulovich wraps up his work day and heads over to Cherokee Bluff where he is not only special teams coordinator, but also works with the Junior Bears football program where his sons Maddax (12) and Gabe (10) both play.

Just like he did with three different NFL teams, Sutulovich is always thinking about how to have field position best in his team’s favor.

Blocking kicks and rushing the punter.

Having players ready to run down the field and make the selfless plays that don’t grab the headlines are what keep ‘Stully’ eager to remain part of football.

Cherokee Bluff head football coach Tommy Jones heard rumblings about Sutulovich’s background and interest in working with the high school team through their mutual friend, Jess Simpson, who was the longtime head coach at Buford High and is now the defensive tackles coach for the Atlanta Falcons.

Jones and Sutulovich finally got to cross paths during a volleyball parents meeting, where both have daughters playing for the Lady Bears.

Cherokee Bluff’s coach decided quickly he wanted Sutulovich to have a permanent position with its program.

“Eric’s an extremely friendly and low-key person to work with,” said Jones, who has been coach at Cherokee Bluff since it opened in 2018. “His humility is rare. He never acts like he knows more than anyone else.”

Sutulovich gets just as excited about coaching at the high school level as he did with the professionals.

Cherokee Bluff’s special teams coordinator is just as happy about molding Jacob Carlson into an All-Region punter in 7-3A last season as when he worked for almost a decade with Pro Bowler kicker Matt Bryant with the Atlanta Falcons.

Even though Carlson has graduated, and plans to play at Georgia Southern, Sutulovich said the program at Cherokee Bluff is on an upward trajectory. He’s doing his part by having players ready to win the field-position battle on special teams.

The community coach for Cherokee Bluff said the biggest reward from coaching high school sports is having an impact on the lives of young people. Sutulovich said that in the NFL those opportunities are not as common.

“I’m fortunate to be a part of what Coach Jones is building here at Cherokee Bluff,” said Sutulovich, whose daughters Sage, 16, and Ellie, 14 both play volleyball for the Bears. “He does things the right way.”

Since retiring from the NFL, Sutulovich said his main priority in football now is to give back to the next generation. His wife, Melissa, is also an active part of the community as McKinney-Vento Liaison for Hall County Schools, ensuring homeless students have their needs met.

Sutulovich was part of two Atlanta Falcons teams (2012 and 2016) that played in the NFC Championship game.

Sutulovich said the highlight to his professional career was being a part of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons team that played in the Super Bowl, but that team is now forever infamous for losing the 28-3 lead against the New England Patriots.

“The thing I remember most about that team is that everybody bought in that season,” said Sutulovich, whose last game with Atlanta came in the 2017 NFC divisional round against Philadelphia. “All our players were all on board.

“Confidence was through the roof and they believed they could win every week. It was a great group of talented players.”

Sutulovich made the jump to the NFL in 2002 when he was hired by the Houston Texans, then coached by Dom Capers.

Even though he was just 27 when he got the call from the NFL, his skill set was in compiling game tape.

When he got hired, Sutulovich was coaching with Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.

He was trying to recruit players and thought the call was a joke from somebody pulling his leg.

His response?

Hanging up the phone.

However, a return call from Texans defensive quality control coach Jedd Fisch was made to say it wasn’t a joke.

They really wanted his services.

That started a run of 14 years in the NFL.

Now with four children all in school, Sutulovich wants to enjoy watching their development.

But his love for football has never waned.

Now, he’s a staple for the coaching staff at Cherokee Bluff.

It’s a responsibility Sutulovich doesn’t take lightly.

“I get the same rush, and think a bit more excitement, out of coaching high school because you see players go out and execute a plan,” said Sutulovich. “I get as excited when a player goes down the field and makes a tackle on special teams or when our punter puts the ball down at the other team’s 2 (yard line) as when we score a touchdown.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Football, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Sports - NFL
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