After a 42-10 beating of Missouri on Saturday, Alabama coach Nick Saban began talking about the next game, and that's when Sunseri realized the time had come to face his dad's team. Alabama will visit Tennessee this week, and former Tide assistant coach Sal Sunseri is the Vols' rookie defensive coordinator.
"Coach Saban brought us in and said, 'This is Tennessee week. This is a rivalry that’s gone back before I was even born probably,' " said Vinnie Sunseri, a sophomore defensive back with the Crimson Tide. "I was sitting there and I was like, 'Wow. I’ve got to play against my dad this week. This is tough.' "
The way Vinnie describes it, the Sunseri family is especially close. He said the biggest reason he came to Alabama in the first place was that his dad was an assistant coach on Saban's staff.
The family is so close that when Sal took the Vols' defensive coordinator job in January, Vinnie had a few anxious moments as he considered whether he wanted to stay in Tuscaloosa. Not only was his dad leaving town, but so where his mother, Roxann Sunseri, and his sister, Ashlyn Sunseri, who was a high school senior and was signing to play volleyball for the Vols.
That left Vinnie in town by himself -- although in the end, he figured he had too many reasons to stay. Still, he thought that when Tennessee week came, it wouldn't be easy for anybody.
"Very, very tough," he said. "A lot of mixed emotions. Hard, hard, hard, hard. I’m getting a lot of calls from the family saying good luck to me, but I know they’re just giving the same exact advice to my dad. It’s tough. It’s really tough. But I’m excited to see my dad."
One of Vinnie's best friends on the team, fellow safety Robert Lester, said Vinnie usually talks about his father often. But something has changed since the Missouri game, which showed Lester how important this game is to his teammate.
"He hasn't said anything about his dad at all," Lester said.
Vinnie's mother won't attend Saturday's game, instead choosing to stay in their Knoxville apartment.
"I just got off the phone with her," Vinnie said. "I said, 'How are you doing?' She said, 'Oh, you know, I’m all right.' I’m like, 'Yeah, I know exactly how you feel.' "
Vinnie said he didn't realize how hard this must be on his mother until he went home for Alabama's open date about a week and a half ago. Vinnie's older brother, Tino Sunseri, plays quarterback for Pittsburgh, and the family watched the Panthers' game against Syracuse on TV. Tino threw for 319 yards but was sacked five times in a 14-13 loss.
"I had never witnessed it before, but she becomes a wreck," Vinnie said. "She’s emotional. Oh, my gosh, she just wishes the best for us at all times. She’s so passionate and loves us all so much. Especially when one of us gets hurt, it just kills her inside. She is a fan favorite of all of us and is, honestly, our biggest fan."
Vinnie said his sister is planning to attend, along with aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends.
"(Ashlyn) says it’s going to be a defensive game in her mind," Vinnie said.
Vinnie still talks to his dad, even this week. They spoke Sunday night. And Vinnie said whoever wins won't claim bragging rights.
"No, no, 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."