Football taken from him, Sturdivant enters the real world

ATHENS -- Trinton Sturdivant does not sound sad. Nor does he sound like a man who curses his fate or who wonders why it happened to him not once, but three times.

He just sounds like a man ready for a job. He sounds like most new college graduates with finance degrees looking for a chance.

“Hopefully I’ll find a job, but it’s been very difficult,” Sturdivant said.

But this is not your average story of a finance major trying to find work. This is a story about a man who was expected to make millions doing something else -- playing football.

The NFL combine is taking place right now, and seven of Sturdivant’s former teammates are there showing off their talents. Others already are in the pros or will be down the line.

There was a day when Sturdivant was setting up to be the best prospect of them all. He was seen as a left tackle who could protect the blind side of NFL quarterbacks for years.

But fate, in the form of a freak set of injuries, had other ideas. Sturdivant is not at the NFL combine. He has given up on his football career. Instead he’s in Atlanta, pursuing a career in finance, while dabbling in volleyball and acting.

“I try not to think about it, because the only emotions that I could get from that are negative emotions,” he said. “I’m an extremely positive person, and I don’t like to be weighed down with anything that’s negative. So I try not to actually focus on things that deal with me and what I could have done.”

There are plenty of “what could have been” stories in the history of Georgia football. They usually revolve around wasted talents, players who couldn’t cut it because of off-field issues. But Sturdivant is a different case.

He was the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Georgia in nearly 20 years. He started every game in 2007 and was named a freshman All-American. He was on a path for greater things and perhaps leaving early for NFL glory.

The first knee injury occurred shortly after, causing him to miss the 2008 season. He worked his way back and earned back his starting spot for the 2009 season. But in a cruel twist, he tore the ACL in the same left knee in the season opener at Oklahoma State, and he missed the rest of that season.

“It just makes you sick,” head coach Mark Richt said at the time.

So Sturdivant returned to the rehab room and made it back in 2010, first coming off the bench and then, as the knee regained strength, making seven starts. He was expected to be one of the team’s starting tackles in 2011.

“There aren’t many that have gone through what he’s gone through and come out of it as well as he has,” Richt said in December of 2010.

And then a few months later, during a spring scrimmage at Sanford Stadium, Sturdivant tore his ACL again -- but in his right knee this time.

For a time, Sturdivant was still leaving the door open for a return to football. He spent the football season rehabbing his knees, watching Bulldogs practices as he jogged on a cardio machine. He even accompanied the team to the Outback Bowl.

Then quietly, and without fanfare, Sturdivant finally decided not to pursue a comeback.

“It was very difficult, but it was something that had to be done. I had to take into my future, as well,” he said. “Me being able to walk when I was 40 was very important in me stopping.”

He did think about trying a move to tight end but decided against that, too.

“That’s just added pain that I didn’t think was necessary,” Sturdivant said. “As well as added risk of tearing my ACL a fourth time.”

Then he laughed and said, “And I definitely didn’t want to go through again.”

Perhaps fate chose Sturdivant to be the one to have his football career ended because he was the one best positioned to succeed anyway. He always has been an honor student, going back to his days as student council president at Anson High School in Wadesboro, N.C. While football was a focal point at Georgia, he made a life outside of it and was profiled last fall in a magazine article for his career as a business student.

He graduated from Georgia in December and has been pursuing a job in Atlanta. To fill the athletic void he has been playing pick-up volleyball.

He’s also thinking of dabbling in acting. He was a model for a few photographers. He plans on taking a few classes in the Atlanta area and seeing where that goes.

But his main focus is finance, which he eventually hopes to meld with his former football career. Sturdivant foresees advising pro athletes on their finances and investments. He thinks he can derive fulfillment from that, making up for the loss of his own playing career.

“I actually feel as though it could be more beneficial,” he said. “Because with playing, there is a small window of how long I would be able to play in the NFL because of my knees. So to have something steady and fulfilling, as well, I think it could potentially be a better gig for me. Even though athletics and football is my passion, hopefully I can use investments as well to supplement that.”

Asked for any final thoughts, Sturdivant offered praise for Richt, calling him the reason he went to Georgia. As for thinking about what might have been in his football career, Sturdivant vows to move forward.

“I’m not really one to speak on things. I actually like to show by my actions,” he said. “I mean I’ve been hindered by the job market. But hopefully my actions will show in the future what I stand for. And the fans and people can get a small glimpse through life after football of who I am and who I am as a person. I like to be a well-rounded person.”