On Saturdays in the fall, Georgia offensive lineman Michael Scullin blends into the all-too familiar sea of red around Sanford Stadium. A number on the front and back of his jersey—67—and a nameplate are the only identifiers that differentiate him from his teammates. His face is hidden behind a mask. Between the hedges, Scullin proudly represents his school, a community, and a symbol.
But he also falls into a stereotype. At a place like Georgia, football players are assumed to live glamorous lifestyles. The term “jock” is thrown around like a pigskin in practice, and players are judged more by their ability to thread the needle or break up a pass than they are their true character.
Being a football player at a major program means being known for that jersey, that number, and those statistics by an entire community, an entire state, and, sometimes, an entire country.
For Scullin, a member of Georgia’s scout team for the past two seasons, his existence was some place between fitting in and being hidden from sight. Scullin had everything—a jersey to wear, a build that would identify him as a football player when he strolled the Athens streets, and the work ethic and smarts to be named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
Ask any parent, and that certainly seems ideal, but for Scullin, he interpreted his place as a college freshman into a nightmare. He felt like he didn’t fit in. He kept to himself. He even called himself a nerd. Sometimes he’d be standing on the sidelines in Sanford Stadium, surrounded by 90,000 people, and feel alone—hidden behind his mask.
Not even his teammates could guess that something was horribly wrong. You couldn’t blame them.
“I was smiling a lot, actually,” Scullin, a 12-time letterman in football, wrestling and track and field at South Forsyth High School, said. “My teammates even called me Smiley.
“Sometimes I felt like a zombie. I felt like I was just going through life. I would get depressed for like two weeks straight and wouldn’t tell anybody.”
Bound by his uniform, his status on the football team and his uncertainty about moving into college life, Scullin began dealing with clinical depression during his freshman season at Georgia. Like many who deal with the disease, he kept the battle to himself—for him, it was a secret he kept tucked away for nine months aside from one visit with a counselor. A few teammates—those who were in his recruiting class and lived with him on campus—could tell something was wrong, he said.
“I guess when I came to college, I struggled finding people as interested in the same stuff as me. I’m more of a nerd,” Scullin laughed. “I was finding ways to make friends. My teammates are all great guys. The depression just happened.”
On May 2, 2013, Scullin won, to this point in his life, something greater than any football game or match on a mat, though he didn’t tell anyone about his victory until posting a testimony titled “May 2nd” on a social media site called The Wish Dish (thewishdish.com)—a forum for college students to share stories of personal struggles, triumphs and inspirational experiences.
In the testimony, which was made public Wednesday morning and shared by Scullin on an anonymous crowd-sourcing website called Reddit, Scullin opened up about a critical turning point in his life.
“I dropped the knife,” Scull wrote. “Tears of joy ran down my face as I realized the most important thing ever in my life. …I went to sleep and woke up being the happiest I had been in nine months. I wasn’t going to let depression affect me ever again. It was time to change it.”
Scullin was on the verge of attempting suicide, but stopped and just moments later had the emotional breakthrough that he says has held strong to this day. His battle with depression is now over, he says, though he now understands it more, is more ready to prepare to battle it in the future, and he’s developed a mental framework of positive thinking and outward expression that he says has changed his life.
After posting the article at 9:55 p.m. Wednesday morning, Scullin was inundated with messages from users—strangers, mostly—on Reddit, Twitter, and other forums. He received texts from teammates offering support. The article had over 45,000 views as of Thursday.
“I figured my story could help somebody out,” Scullin said. “I knew if I could change any life, or save a life, it would be worth it.
“The amount of messages I’ve gotten is so overwhelming. So many people saying thank you. People know what it’s like to struggle—everyone does—but nobody talks about it. That can change.”
His former football coach at South, Jeff Arnette, was one of many who couldn’t have guessed Scullin was struggling with depression.
“When you hear that somebody was going through that, you feel terrible and helpless that you weren’t able to help them. That was the first thing I thought (when reading the story),” Arnette said. “He would come by to visit in the offseason. He was always happy.
“I think kids today are put under so much pressure with academics and expectations sometimes. He’s a kid who really stresses academics and sports as well. Kids are definitely under way more stress than I was when I was their age.”
Scullin, now majoring in mechanical engineering, has picked up programming skills and plans on releasing two apps before his graduation. His concept is to create a program that matches users based on similar interests.
His goal is to help everyone feel like they belong.
“I am excited about it,” Scullin said. “I came up with it while struggling with my depression. It will match you based on your interests and hobbies. If you need to find a rock-climbing buddy, you can use it to do just that.”
Scullin’s interests include programming, video games and sporting events. He says he keeps to himself, especially the fact that he’s a big Star Wars fan. He said he “absolutely cannot wait” for the December release of Star Wars: Episode VII.
“I’ve been excited about that since it was announced,” he said.
Last year, Scullin helped teammate and current Kansas City Chiefs receiver Chris Conley, a journalism student who also produced films as a hobby, with a Star Wars fan-fiction film called Retribution. The film has been viewed over 530,000 times on YouTube and even featured Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
“Yeah, I helped Conley out with that,” Scullin said. “It was a really fun experience. We took about two weekends to film the entire movie and did have some great shots and everything.
“I love Star Wars,” he laughed. “I love doing things that normally nobody does, I guess.”
Scullin will enter his redshirt sophomore season at Georgia this fall. Already this year he’s been named to UGA’s J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Honor Roll, and he has some new goals for the upcoming season.
“As of right now, I’m hoping to play in a couple of games this year or next year,” he said. “Also, really, I want us to go to the SEC Championship this year and possibly a national championship.”
Scullin said since telling his story he’s only gotten closer to his teammates. None of them knew about his battle with depression until he made his story public this week.
“I feel very comfortable with my team. I like hanging around them. We’re a brotherhood,” Scullin said. “This morning a lot of teammates reached out to support me. They were telling me they’re always here for me.
“I’m glad I spoke up.”