Andrew Renneisen | Staff PhotographerFootball
Painful lesson: After multiple bumps in road, Gulley re-evaluates priorities to get football career back on track
Prince-Tyson Gulley hoped it would feel better in the morning. The sharp pain in his left shoulder that kept him from sleeping on that side told him something different.
It was the worst timing for an injury. He was coming off a 10-carry, 66-yard game against Toledo on Sept. 24, 2011. He was feeling good about his future with the Orange.
That pain brought him back down.
The injury, which would turn out to be a broken collarbone, was one more disappointment in Gulley’s time at Syracuse. It came months after he was the victim of a stabbing, one that could have had life-altering consequences. Both forced Gulley to re-evaluate his life at SU. One season later, Gulley is reaping the benefits of eliminating outside distractions and potentially career-threatening situations.
Simply put, he learned his lesson.
“I regretted it then, but I don’t regret it now because I believe it’s made me a better person that I am today,” Gulley said. “And it’s keeping me focused.”
Gulley couldn’t throw all of this away. He came too far. At Garfield (Ohio) High School, the 5-foot-9-inch back could do it all.
As an eighth grader, he already had the endorsement of an eventual first-round NFL Draft pick.
Beanie Wells, a former star at Ohio State who is now a second-string running back on the Arizona Cardinals, was a stud tailback at Garfield under head coach Bob Sax. Wells told Sax he had to see this eighth grader — “the real deal” — tearing up Pee Wee football.
“I went and checked him out, saw him play a Pee Wee game, and he was just totally different. Here was this little kid who was probably 165 pounds, just amazing,” Sax said. “I said he’s by far the best kid on the field.”
Sax soon had him on his team. During Gulley’s four years in high school, he played multiple positions on both sides of the ball.
All of Gulley’s skills were on display when Garfield played St. Vincent-St. Mary (Ohio) High School, a Catholic school expected to beat the Golden Rams.
The Garfield offense ran a play where Gulley was supposed to run left, but the play got blown up. Gulley stopped, eluded tackles, turned and ran straight to the corner of the end zone, outrunning Doran Grant, who was the Ohio state champion in the 110-meter hurdles in outdoor track and the 60-meter hurdle champion indoors.
With Garfield up 14-7, St. Vincent-St. Mary scored a touchdown with about 30 seconds to go. Gulley blocked the extra point and the Golden Rams won 14-13.
“I’ve never coached a better player all around,” Sax said. “On both sides of the ball, he could do it all.”
And yet Ohio State, the football powerhouse Gulley grew up dreaming of playing for, never took serious notice.
Sax had Gulley go down to Columbus to meet with then-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. Gulley wanted an offer, but knew he wasn’t likely to get one unless he switched to cornerback, a move he didn’t want to make. The Buckeyes wanted a bigger running back, and the 5-foot-9-inch Gulley didn’t fit that description.
Without an offer from Ohio State, Gulley weighed his other options. He received offers from a number of Mid-American Conference schools, including Eastern Michigan, where Syracuse running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley worked at the time in the same capacity.
That was the first time Wheatley saw Gulley.
“A very energetic, upbeat personality, which matches his personality on the field. Quick guy, quick burst, make the first defender miss,” Wheatley said of Gulley. “He does a lot of things. He’s that guy that you want to have on your team.”
Wheatley eventually would, albeit at a different school.
“I’ve never coached a better player all around. On both sides of the ball, he could do it all.”
Bob Sax, Garfield High School head football coach
Of the programs to offer Gulley a scholarship, Syracuse stood out. It was arguably the biggest, most well-known school to make an offer. It also carried a tradition Gulley recognized.
While the offer was on the table, the movie “The Express” was released. It told the story of former Orange great Ernie Davis. The movie reinforced Gulley’s view of Syracuse. He also spoke to former SU running back and current Indianapolis Colts back Delone Carter, also an Akron, Ohio, native and someone Gulley looked up to.
Both Gulley and his father, Anthony, saw Syracuse as the right fit.
“What I saw was basically the history of the school,” Anthony Gulley said. “The fact that it was up and out of the way as far as big city life. … He didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
For the first time, Gulley was out of Akron. Being away presented a new life, one he struggled to adjust to at first. Serious consequences ensued.
On July 29, 2011, Gulley was stabbed several times at a South Campus party. Kivon Davis, of Syracuse, was later accused of second-degree felony assault and misdemeanor fourth-degree possession of a weapon, The Post-Standard reported on Aug. 5, 2011.
When the knife was plunged into Gulley’s back, Gulley knew he needed to get to a hospital. He said he worked hard during the entire summer and thought he had completely wasted it.
As he lay in his bed at Upstate University Medical Center, Gulley could only be thankful. The knife missed his kidneys and spine by mere inches. He knew it could’ve been worse.
“When I was in the hospital, that’s one of the things I was saying,” Gulley said. “But I was just telling them, ‘God isn’t going to let me go out like this.’”
Gulley recovered quickly. He played in Syracuse’s first four games and broke out against Toledo with a career-high 66 yards on 10 carries. The game put Gulley in the spotlight as Antwon Bailey’s primary backup.
That game also signaled the end of his season.
Gulley said he hurt his left shoulder but never told the coaches or trainers. The more he played, the worse it became. He hoped it would feel fine in the morning. He hoped it was just the effect of playing a physical game.
It felt the same when he woke up.
He went to the trainers, who then took him to Crouse Hospital. Gulley had broken his collarbone. Gulley adamantly says it broke against Toledo. He said he hesitated to get help because he was playing too well.
“I knew it was a bad feeling, but I knew I was doing well and I wanted to continue to go,” Gulley said. “That’s what I was saying, I wanted to continue. I didn’t want that to stop me and it ended up messing me up.”
The injury ended his season. That, combined with the stabbing, forced Gulley to mature and completely dedicate himself to football.
Over the summer, Gulley returned to Garfield and met with Sax. Gulley told Sax that he would be his former head coach’s third NFL Draft pick, following in the footsteps of Wells and Whitney Mercilus.
“I could tell right then he was ready,” Sax said.
So far, Gulley has racked up 217 yards on 54 carries. Against Stony Brook, he took a screen pass from quarterback Ryan Nassib and went 61 yards for a touchdown.
Gulley said it’s all a part of his plan. He realized how much he had right in front of him. The opportunity to play football at Syracuse was something he didn’t want to simply give away.
If he needs a reminder, he can just think back to the pain that could’ve ended it all.
“I feel like it’s my turn to step up,” Gulley said. “I’ve just got to follow through and continue to do what I’ve been doing, and just learn more.”
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