In his first two+ seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Tulloch has carved out a nice niche for himself on special teams and as a reserve at middle linebacker. This week, he will get his chance to really emerge as he has been named the starting middle linebacker for Sunday's game against Minnesota.
Tulloch played in Raleigh from 2003 through 2005, leaving school early after his junior year for the NFL. Wolfpack fans might remember the 16-tackle performance that he turned in against South Florida in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl, a game where he earned MVP honors that proved to be his final one as a collegian. Pack Pride recently caught up with Tulloch, and he had nothing but positive comments regarding his time in Raleigh.
“It was a great experience,” Tulloch said of his time at State. “I had a coach in Coach (Chuck) Amato who believed in me. My junior year of high school, he saw something in me and gave me the chance to come to NC State and perform the way that I did. I called him at Florida State a few weeks ago and told him thanks for the opportunity and the experience that I got in college. He pushed me to where I am today. I love NC State a lot.”
"It was a great experience."
When asked to name one specific memory that stands above all others from his days in the ACC, Tulloch was somewhat at a loss.
“I have a ton of memories,” he said. “We had a lot of great coaches come through there that helped me a lot. Coach (Reggie) Herring was by far one of the best position coaches to ever coach me. He taught me not only about football but about life and about how to carry yourself. That’s one memory that I will never forget, is what he taught me on about how to go about things. He really molded me as a person and a player.”
Even to this day, Tulloch continues to give Amato much of the credit for helping make him into the player that he is today.
“When I first got to NC State, I really didn’t know too much about Coach Amato other than the fact that my brother played for him at Florida State,” he said. “But once I got there, he molded me into a special player to work hard, fly around and look for the ball. He also taught me to be accountable and to be disciplined, things that definitely carry over to the NFL.”
“I’m here now with the Tennessee Titans and a lot of these guys don’t understand why I’m around the ball so much, why I go full speed and never take days off,” he stated. “I do that because that’s what Coach Amato taught me and that’s all I know how to do. That’s what players like Mario Williams who are in the league now do because Coach Amato instilled that in us to make us better players. You can see that in those guys as well as myself. He’s definitely a great coach.”
Tulloch also credits older brother David, who played defensive tackle under Amato at Florida State between 1995 through 1998, for helping instill the strong work ethic and tenacity that has come to define his game.
“Since I’ve been playing, I do everything full speed,” he said. “My brother really instilled that in me as a kid. I really looked up to him a lot when he was at Florida State and always wanted to be like him.”
“Whenever I’m on the field and whatever I’m doing, it has to be full speed because anything less than that is not acceptable,” he said. “It’s the same way in life. You have to do everything full speed because if you don’t, you’re only going to get half as much out of it. He really instilled in me to work hard, that hard work pays off and to dedicate yourself to whatever you do.”
As a junior, Tulloch earned first team All-ACC honors and was also an honorable mention All-American. Those honors didn’t make his decision to leave Raleigh a year early any easier.
"He pushed me to where I am today."
“It was very tough,” he said. “NC State was a great place to play football but also a great place to get an education. Because of those guys that I came in with and those who were behind, it was a tough decision. I set goals for myself before my junior year about what I would want to achieve and I achieved those goals.”
“I told Coach Amato before I left that I had appreciated everything he had done for me in my three years there but I felt like I am healthy, physically in great shape and my best playing days are ahead of me and it’s time for me to go on to the NFL,” he stated. “He was kind of optimistic about it at first but understood where I came from and was behind me 100%. If I had it all to do over again, I will say that I will make the same decision. Tennessee is a great place, a great opportunity for me and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
On draft day, he felt that he would be selected higher than in the fourth round, where the Titans took him. However, that is water under the bridge now but Tulloch still hasn’t forgotten which teams took a pass on him in the ’06 draft.
“I was mad to be honest,” he admitted. “I was excited about the opportunity to get into the NFL but mad because those teams passed me up.”
“They saw my height as a big factor to not draft me,” he said. “That’s my motivation in my career from here on out. I want to show every team that passed on me what they missed out on. I should’ve been drafted higher than I was but it’s nothing but a blessing to be here in Tennessee. I plan on making the best of my opportunity.”
Even now in his third year in the NFL, Tulloch admits that those critics remain big motivators.
“It does,” he said. “I have to prove myself every day to show people in the NFL that Stephen Tulloch at 5’11” is going to be one of the best linebackers in this league before it’s said and done.”
“That’s what motivates me the most, to prove people wrong,” he said. “My whole life, people have doubted me and said that I couldn’t make it in college or in the NFL. I want the younger kids to look and me and say that if I can do it, then they can also. It all boils down to heart. You can have a guy a lot bigger than me but he doesn’t have the heart to compete. Heart is the main factor. That’s what drives me.”
Since coming to the NFL two seasons ago, Tulloch has adjusted to many new things about being in the professional ranks.
"That’s what motivates me the most, to prove people wrong."
“The biggest adjustment is the terminology and how they go about things here,” he said. “It’s not just football any more and you’ve got to understand that. At the same time, you’ve got to be prepared for what they throw at you.”
“The technology and the speed of the game are much faster,” he said. “It’s not as fast for me as it is for some of the other players who didn’t play on a fast defense. Everybody here is good and goes full speed. You’re going against the best of the best every week, so you really have to study hard. The speed of the game is the biggest adjustment for me.” One of his teammates with the Titans is fellow linebacker David Thornton, who went to that “other” school just up the road in Chapel Hill. Tulloch admits that he and his teammate do their share of jawing during football season.
“Yes, every week we get after it,” he said. “There is a lot of trash talking between us during the season. I’m really confident that NC State will come out on top this year.”
Playing in the NFL has been a lifelong dream, so forgive Tulloch if he feels like he is living that dream every day.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Every day I walk around and come to the facility, I see the NFL logo and players that I grew up watching my whole life and guys I played against, it almost doesn’t seem real and almost feels like a dream to me.”
“It’s almost like I have passed away and am living a dream,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m very blessed to be here but it’s very humbling at the same time. That’s why I never take anything for granted and always work hard because one day you’re here and the next day you’re gone. It’s just a real blessing to be here.”