Sylvester ?Sly? has transformed Utah defense

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

Going back as far as his memory will serve him, Stevenson Sylvester has always had a surplus of nicknames.

At an early age, his family dubbed him “Stevie.” After arriving at the U, defensive coordinator Gary Andersen called him “Slappy.”

“That’s Coach A’s nickname for me, but I have no idea why,” Sylvester said.

Over the past three seasons, folks with knowledge of Utah football have come to know the 6-foot-2-inch, 224-lb. linebacker from Las Vegas simply as “Sly.”

Utah’s No. 10 shares his given name with famed cartoon cat, Sylvester of the “Looney Toons.”

“I think that’s where people got Sly,” he said. “I guess they liked it and just ran with it.”

Nicknames aside, there is nothing stealthy about the linebacker’s play on the field.

Sylvester, No. 2 in tackles on a heralded Utah defense, is known for being one of the most athletic, versatile players on defense.

“Sly has earned his respect on the field because of his big hits, because of his playmaking ability,” Andersen said. “And he’s learned to have great work ethic. Even more so than any night we’re playing.”

The junior in communication has a keen ability to sense moods, and if the mood surrounding his football team isn’t what he expects, he lets the whole crew know what’s on his mind.

“I just try to make people feel not down,” Sylvester said. “It helps when you get a couple yells in, a couple laughs, you listen to music and make fun of something. It turns the whole day different.”

The “rover” linebacker was a starter off and on during his first

two years at the U, but has emerged this year as one of the faces of the program and a centerpiece for the No. 11-ranked defense in the country. His constant

grin and chill attitude helps, but opponents see a different side of the kid from Sin City once the ball is snapped.

Sly started eight games last season as a sophomore and managed to come in No. 2 on the team in tackles with 86 total and tackles for loss with 10. His freshman year was the same song and dance in terms of success. Starting three games as a true freshman, Sylvester had 23 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown against Utah State.

That 2005 season was one to remember for Sly. Not for the fact that he made his collegiate debut or the fact that Utah won a bowl game, but because he had the opportunity to learn from players such as Eric Weddle, who is now a defensive back with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.

“I got a lot of help from Weddle,” he said. “He helped me with the reads and taught me how to study. He was one of the first guys to teach me stuff. All those veterans that were here were very helpful to me.”

Moving back even earlier than 2005, Sylvester has always been one step ahead of the curve. Whether it was playing the saxophone for five years or starring in football, baseball, soccer and basketball, he has always had the drive to be the best.

“Really, basketball was my main thing, but I don’t know why because I wasn’t that good at it,” he said. “But my junior year of high school, I made a couple plays in football and it just took off from there.”

Starting every game so far this season for his 10-0 Utes, Sly has been a main cog in this team’s success on the defensive side of the ball. He has led the Utes in tackles against Michigan, Colorado State and most recently, TCU.

For Sylvester, the three years of starting football games is starting to turn into something special for Utah defense.

“Sly is a very good leader,” Andersen said. “It’s a job that he’s kind of had to learn to accept. He had a lot of success here as a young player, and usually as a young player, you’re expected to be a leader once you’re a junior or a senior; now he is a leader.”

Sylvester’s emergence for this team has been both eye-opening for the 20-year-old and humbling all at the same time. He runs alongside two talented linebackers, Mike Wright and Nai Fotu. Although he is currently enjoying this undefeated season, he still has a hard time accepting rave reviews.

“Being here the last couple years has taught me a lot,” he said. “I had to learn a lot. Just like anybody, you gotta wait for your turn to come up. Mine came up and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”

Sylvester was elected as one of four captains of the team. He and senior defensive back Brice McCain were elected defensive co-captains to begin the season. The 180-degree spin that Sly has on and off the field is apparent. His 59 tackles stand out on the field just as easily as his fun-loving nature does off of it.

“Sly is a kid that has a lot of emotion,” Andersen said. “He plays with a lot of emotion, he lives life with a lot of emotion.”

[email protected]

Lennie Mahler

Stevenson Sylvester has been a big part of the success the Utah defense has had this year. Sylvester has led the team in tackles in three of the Utes 10 game this year.