Published by Zephyrhills Free Press
Zephyrhills Free Press
Former ZHS Standout Was Waiting For Such An Opportunity
by Mark McLeod
Photo: Sederrick Cunningham. Photo courtesy Matt Becker – Green Bay Packers
The day began much like any other day for Sederrick Cunningham. The former Zephyrhills football star and recent Furman graduate had returned home and began working at GNC. On the other end of the telephone was his agent, informing him that the Green Bay Packers had decided to sign him to a free agent contract. He wasted no time dialing up the biggest Packers fan that he had ever known – his mother, Shirley.
“I called her immediately and the tears were flowing because it was a big blessing,” Cunningham said. “She was ecstatic. She was more excited than I was and I was pretty excited, but she was over the top. She cried on the phone and started telling everybody. It definitely changed everything that I was going to be doing for the next couple of months at least.”
Shirley has been a Packers fan for at least 30 years. And with one phone call she learned her favorite player now wears #13.
The 5’11, 192 pound wide receiver caught 95 passes for 1,196 yards and seven touchdowns for the Paladins after wrapping up a sensational career at Zephyrhills High School, where he excelled on the football, basketball, and track teams. In 2011, Cunningham silenced the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when he sprinted past the Florida secondary for a 47 yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter. He finished the Florida game as the total offense leader with 234 yards – 170 kickoff return yards, 47 receiving, and a 17 yard run on a reverse.
However, his phone barely rang after completing his senior season at Furman. Cunningham spent 2012 working to pay the bills and keeping himself in shape, hopeful for a call.
“My agent called me out of nowhere last November,” Cunningham recalled. “He told me that Green Bay is probably going to want to bring you up for a workout. I really hadn’t had anything to that point. I mean nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean no AFL (Arena Football League). I had a couple of CFL (Canadian Football League) tryouts, but nothing was working.”
He felt as though his workout in Green Bay went very well, but after months of no contact it appeared to be a dead end. Now, he’s happy to say that he’s living with other players in a hotel working every day to make a lasting impression on the Packers staff. Green Bay is going through OTA’s and off-season workouts. And strangely enough, he’s doing so with yet another Zephyrhills legend, Ryan Pickett, lined up across the line of scrimmage.
Cunningham has a bit of an advantage because he has played special teams all his life. He returned punts and kickoffs while playing for the Bulldogs and returned 66 kicks at Furman.
“If you haven’t established yourself in the league, you’re going to have to play special teams,” he said. “That’s the quickest vehicle to the field and coaches repeat that time and time again. Special teams is the way to get on this team right now. I’m going to devote my time to special teams, so that I can be able to devote more time to playing wide receiver (later).”
While receivers are glorified for their ability to get separation and make the catch, coaches want receivers who demonstrate the willingness to block. Cunningham said that message was relayed on day one.
“I’ll tell you exactly what one of the (Packers) coaches said,” Cunningham said. “In fact, he wrote it on the board during rookie meetings, blocking wins you a job. That’s how important it is, because if you can only run routes, they’re going to take the guy that can run routes good and blocks good, but not the guy that runs routes great, but can’t block at all. That’s what gets you that second and third contract.”
Cunningham uses the past as motivation. He vividly recalls the despair he felt on a personal level after watching his friends get drafted or sign free agent contracts, while he sat waiting for the telephone to ring.
“Every day, I thank God that I’m here. I often don’t take anything for granted. God is good and He blessed me and put me in this position for a reason. He may not give you what you want when you want it, but He will definitely give you what you need, when you need it. I felt like my being out of football for over a year was something that I had to take and learn how to be a man.”
And now better prepared, this is his time to make the most of it.