Steelers' McCullers is more than just big body trying to make it in NFL
Soda, Doritos and a lot of Madden … sleep and then repeat.
Daniel McCullers' days at Southeast Raleigh High School didn't have much variation when it wasn't football season.
“He was just being a typical high school kid,” former Southeast Raleigh head coach Daniel Finn said.
But nothing has ever been typical about Daniel McCullers … ever.
Typically, you don't see many 6-foot-7, 400-plus pound high school seniors who can dunk a basketball … in jeans.
Typically, you don't run across too many 250-pound 12-year-olds.
Typically, you don't see many kids sit in a chair at the mall and the chair explode.
Typically, you don't see many 400-pound 18-year-olds line up for morning formation wearing a military uniform and swear to a Cadet Honor Code.
Typically, you don't get recognized at a South Side sandwich shop by name a week after being the 215th pick in the NFL Draft, even if it was by the Steelers.
The man they call Mount McCullers is far from typical.
“He's gigantic,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, “and big guys are hard to come by these days. I am pretty sure we got the biggest.”
I'm used to it
McCullers is used to getting the looks. He's used to getting asked how tall he is and how much he weighs.
“When I was younger, it bothered me, but now I am so used to it that I take it as a compliment,” McCullers said.
At 6-7, 352, McCullers was the biggest player selected in the draft and is the third biggest player listed on any NFL 90-man offseason roster.
Only New York Jets practice squad nose tackle T.J. Barnes (6-6, 364) and New England backup right tackle Marcus Cannon (6-5, 358) are listed as bigger than McCullers.
“But he is not a fat kid. He's just big,” Finn said. “He doesn't have a huge stomach or anything like that. He is just a big person, and always been.”
He's big but unusually athletic.
McCullers ran a 5.32 40-yard dash on a bum hamstring at Tennessee's Pro Day in early April and was measured with an astounding 20 percent body fat ratio despite his sizable frame.
“I tell people my weight and they don't believe me,” McCullers said. “They think I am 290 or something like that.”
It wasn't always like that.
McCullers was a self-proclaimed “mess” during his youth.
When he tried out for the North Garner Middle School team, McCullers was cut on the first day. Even though he was never told why, he knew.
“I was in terrible shape,” McCullers said. “I ran a sprint and almost passed out.”
It wasn't until Finn, a rookie coach at the time, saw McCullers during summer conditioning during his freshman year that everything changed.
“He's 6-4, 300 pounds and he was walking with his head down and it got my attention,” Finn said. “I went over to talk to him and see if he played, and he said he got cut in middle school. I told him, I promise you, son, that I will have a spot for you the next four years.”
Two years later, McCullers was an all-conference defensive lineman.
Finn said McCullers was quiet and “probably said 20 words” during those first two years.
“He kept to himself and didn't show a whole lot of emotion one way or the other,” Finn said. “He just went out there and did what we said.”
Still, the weight kept packing on.
“We would run him, run him and run him and do a lot of cardio activities, but he would just keep getting bigger,” Finn said.
By McCullers' senior year, he was 390 pounds, but was a dominant force in the middle for Finn as he earned second team all-state and helped Southeast Raleigh to a 10-3 record.
Weighing in at 414 pounds — that was his weight at a North Carolina State football camp during the spring of his senior year — along with a 1.8 grade point average will scare about every college recruiter away. It was no different for McCullers.
He could've gone to nearby Livingstone College, but McCullers wanted to play Division I football.
Enter Georgia Military College.
Finn thought GMC would be a perfect fit for McCullers because of the personality he had.
“He would do anything you would ask him to do, but if you didn't tell him to do it, he wouldn't. He would just sit there,” Finn said. “Knowing how Daniel was and that he needed someone to tell him to go do this or go do that or eat this or run this, that he would do it. It was a perfect fit. He needed that discipline of when to get up, when to eat, what to put on.”
At Georgia Military College, that's what McCullers got.
“Waking up 5 o'clock every morning, running, working out with military officers, having formation every morning, marching every day, wearing uniforms,” McCullers said. “I did it all. At first, I thought it was a lot with the uniform and everything, but it was my only option.”
McCullers played some as a freshman, but a sophomore year in which he had nine tackles for losses and two sacks made him one of the top junior college recruits in the nation.
When he finally settled on Tennessee, that 400-pound kid from North Carolina was now an athletic 360-pound space-eater playing in the SEC.
“When he went to Tennessee, I think the light bulb finally went on,” Finn said. “He saw what it was going to take to be successful.”
The Steelers liked him enough to take him in the sixth round with the hopes of molding him into a typical 3-4 nose tackle with an atypical body.
The Steelers used McCullers strictly at nose tackle during last week's rookie minicamp but will shuffle him around to defensive end in sub-packages during upcoming organized team activities. Regardless of where he plays, McCullers knows he needs to work on getting low off the ball, and being 6-7, that's not easy.
“That's something I have to work on every day,” McCullers said. “(Defensive line) Coach (John) Mitchell gets on me about it, but that's everywhere I go. When I do get low, I can be a good player. When I get high, I can get blocked.”
The other thing McCullers has to work on? Yes, the Doritos.
“Sometimes I miss them, but I know I don't need them,” he said.
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib
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