Dave Martin / Associated Press
Friday, April 16, 2010 | 2 a.m.
On the first day of contact practice at Valley High in 2003, then-junior varsity coach John Elwell listed sophomore Stevenson Sylvester as a second-team linebacker on the JV squad.
That didn't last long.
"By the end of the scrimmage, he was undoubtedly a first-teamer," Elwell, now the varsity coach at Valley, said. "Midway through that season, he was a standout on varsity."
Sylvester never stopped his upward progression in football from there. He became an all-state linebacker for the Vikings his senior year and received a scholarship to play at Utah, where he was a three-time all-Mountain West Conference performer.
Now Sylvester is preparing for the next phase. He's working toward being selected in next Thursday's NFL Draft or signing a free-agent deal with an NFL team.
"I can't even explain it," Sylvester said. "It's just a dream."
The projections don't bother Sylvester, who just wants a shot.
"It's just people's ideas," Sylvester said. "You can't do anything except wait. It's killing me because all I want to get is my opportunity. I know if I don't get drafted, I've got to work even harder to prove I belong. But that shouldn't be a problem."
It shouldn't be a problem because Sylvester is used to being doubted. Valley coaches had to convince Utah to recruit him out of high school.
The Utes offered Sylvester, who schools saw as under-sized at 190 pounds, his only Division-I scholarship. Similar concerns have come up at the professional level.
Sylvester, 6-foot-2 and now 230 pounds, might be slightly smaller than a prototypical NFL linebacker. He also might not be quite as fast as some of the NFL's elite.
All these concerns sound eerily similar to Sylvester.
"It makes me go back to high school a lot," Sylvester said. "I didn't get a whole lot of attention and just had to work for my opportunity."
Once he got that opportunity, Sylvester was relentless. In addition to his individual accolades, he also was a captain on the 2009 Utah team that went 13-0 and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
As Elwell watched Sylvester pile up a team-high in tackles against the Crimson Tide, it was hard to forget the player's first high school game.
"He picked off a pass and ran it back for a touchdown," Elwell said. "It was almost like a defining moment for him. He was destined for greatness at that point and never looked back."
Sylvester, of course, could wind up with any of the 32 teams in the NFL. But he gave a few hints of which teams have shown the most interest.
He said he had talked with the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers more than any other teams.
If Sylvester isn't drafted, it possibly could serve as a benefit because he can sift through offers and decide which team would be the best fit.
"It can be an advantage and it can't be," Sylvester said. "It's a business and any team can capture you at any second."
Elwell said Sylvester had been the talk of Valley in the last couple weeks. Much like it was during Sylvester's high school days, everyone wants to see what he'll do next.
"We just know from Valley that if he gets an opportunity, he's going to seize it," Elwell said. "He's going to make the best of it."