It was a year of education for Vinnie Sunseri.
A fifth-round pick out of Alabama, the safety learned what it’s like to play in the NFL, what it means to be a professional, and how to deal with a season-ending injury at this level. His education will continue as he goes through his first offseason as a pro.
It will also continue in a more traditional sense as Sunseri will spend his offseason at the University of Alabama working to finish his degree in business management — a promise he made to his parents, Roxann and Sal, before turning pro last year.
“My dad always told me that football was really important to me, but education was really important to my parents,” Sunseri said. “I promised them that if I left school early, I would go back and finish my degree. I don’t want to put it off, I don’t want to wait until the most convenient time. I’m going to do it right away and prove to them that it was important to me.”
The New Orleans Saints safety is only two classes shy of receiving his diploma and will take one class related to his major and an elective, likely related to public speaking. Sunseri plans to pursue a career in public speaking or broadcasting once his career comes to a close.
The two classes will be paid for by the university, but Sunseri has to pay for his own books and housing. He said he plans to stick around campus throughout the offseason to continue to rehabilitate the fractured arm that landed him on injured reserve.
Sunseri said his arm is around 90 percent healthy and he plans to achieve the other 10 percent working with Alabama’s director of strength and conditioning Scott Cochran. Later in the summer, he hopes to hook up with other former Alabama players who return to campus to prepare for the upcoming season.
He believes working with that level of talent will make him a better player heading into his second season.
“Always run with people faster than yourself,” Sunseri said. “A lot of guys go back. I’m not sure if they’re going back for the whole offseason like I’m going to, but I’m sure I will run into the guys.”
Sunseri said it was a disappointment when he suffered a fractured arm during a November game against the San Francisco 49ers. At the time, he was excelling on special teams and was being given more opportunities on defense. Then it all came to a stop.
He did not, however, throw in the towel and allow his on-the-field education to cease. He continued to attend meetings in an effort to keep up with what the defense was doing each week and would then follow along from wherever he was watching the game.
“I wanted to hear the game plans, and see what they were doing with each team, with each quarterback, with each scheme they were facing,” Sunseri said. “I just wanted to know what the general game plan was so that whenever I was watching game I could make calls and understand what we wanted to do defensively.”
Sunseri is among those who said he would be happy if Rob Ryan returned as New Orleans’ defensive coordinator. On Wednesday, multiple sources told The Advocate Ryan is expected to come back. Coming from Nick Saban’s schemes, Sunseri said he did not find it difficult to pick up the various elements of the defense and said he believes the complexity of Ryan’s system is a benefit.
“I loved his scheme, I love the different blitzes, between zone pressures and man pressures,” Susneri said. “I loved man schemes, the zone schemes. To mix it up is what you need in this league. If you have someone who can mix it up and not give the quarterback the same look every week it’s huge. Having a mix match of calls is huge, I think.”
When Sunseri comes back next season, he’ll have a full season of education under his belt and should be ready to challenge for an even bigger role.