Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Family Feud: father, son to face off for first time Saturday

Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is 6 feet tall and weighs 215 pounds. At that size, there’s just not much that can shake him up. But the defensive leader is venturing into unfamiliar territory as he prepares to square off against the Volunteers Saturday. He will be facing what may be his biggest challenge to date — a game that pits him against his own father.

The University’s last linebackers coach Sal Sunseri was named as the University of Tennessee’s new defensive coordinator on Jan. 14, just four days after Alabama won its 14th national championship. Since then, the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry has become a lot more personal for both Sunseris.

“Hard. Hard, hard, hard,” Vinnie said. “It’s very, very tough.”

Saturday’s game will mark the first time in Vinnie’s life in which he’ll play against his dad, and although the two won’t directly be competing against each other, Vinnie said it won’t make the game any easier.

OVERSET FOLLOWS:“Probably about 10 minutes after the Missouri game it kind of hit me,” Vinnie said. “I was sitting there and I was like, ‘Wow. I’ve got to play against my dad this week. This is tough.’”

Sal echoed his son’s thoughts on the game.

“I didn’t imagine it would be this hard,” Sal said in an interview with Knoxville reporters. “But we’re both going to be professionals about it, do what we have to do and go out there and be able to play our best football.”

All throughout the season, even with the game looming in the distance, Vinnie said he didn’t avoid talking with his father, even on the topic of football.

“He kind of watches me during games and just kind of helps me out,” Vinnie said. “He still coaches me. He can’t help it.”

Despite the tense atmosphere this week, the father and son haven’t foregone their conversations with one another. Vinnie said he’d been in contact with his father Sunday, but said the two broke tradition and shied away from talking about football.

“I just told him I love him,” Vinnie said. “We just try to talk about how he’s doing, how mom’s doing, how the family’s doing.”

Indeed, the two aren’t the only ones who’ve been affected by the upcoming game. Vinnie said he expected everyone in his family – cousins, aunts, uncles and godparents – to attend.

“I feel like there’s gonna be a lot of orange and red this weekend being worn in the household,” Vinnie said.

Still, there will be one notably empty seat in Knoxville Saturday. Roxann Sunseri, Sal’s wife and Vinnie’s mother will probably watch the game at home. Both men said this week has been especially hard on her, since she’s caught between the two.

“You just talk about me and my son, but for her, she’s trying to be a wife and then she’s trying to be a mother,” Sal said. “So she’s trying to be strong, trying to be supportive both ways, but it’s tough.”

Indeed, Vinnie said he knew it would be tough on his mother earlier this year when he and Sal managed to make it to Pittsburgh during a mutual bye week to watch his older brother Tino play quarterback for the Panthers.

“I had never witnessed it before, but she is … she becomes a wreck,” Vinnie said. “She’s emotional, she – oh, my gosh – she just wishes the best for us at all times. She’s so passionate and loves us all so much.”

And, at the end of it all, even with the heated rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee, Vinnie said he didn’t expect the victor between him and his dad to make it too unbearable for the other.

“This is just a football game,” Vinnie said. “This isn’t anything I would want to put into his face, or if they are able to do something against us it’s something that he wouldn’t want to rub in our face. It’s competition, but at the end of the day, we’re family. That’s the strongest thing.”


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