The heart of North Central’s football team this year is its line.
And at the heart of the line is the son of coach Jerry McCullough, third-year starter Rance McCullough, and two returning teammates.
“That’s where it starts, right there,” said Rance McCullough. “We have three returning starters and big underclassmen who will step up. If we are tough we’ll win games.”
As a timid 155-pound sophomore Rance McCullough was called up to become varsity center when injuries hit the starters.
“He started halfway through the season due to default more than anything,” said his dad. “But he was the best available player at the time.”
This year McCullough is a 5-foot-10, 190-pound guard and defensive end, steeled by two years of play against linemen larger than himself.
“It’s given me a lot more courage,” he said.
Last year, he and a dozen others were tested by a 1-8 season.
Included offensively were center Travis Hansen, tackle Keith Ford, tight end Jerry Holdren and Backfield veterans Lewis Tomlinson and Dartiste Johnson,
Joining them are 275-pound Dan Moore, a defensive starter last year, and newcomer juniors, 290-pound Brett Jordan and 240-pound Brian Burrow.
Others on offense are runner Ryan Corigliano, sophomore quarterback Mike Caballero, and junior QB Matt Bernards, junior receivers Kurt Plaster, Justin Harrison and sophomore Dustin Clark.
Defensive veterans besides those above who will go both ways are linebackers Matt Panidis, Pat Wall, Aaron Brown and Brian Levesque and defensive back Nic Pugliese.
Other back hopefuls are Justin Williams, Justin Lake and Toby Rose.
What sets McCullough apart from his Indian teammates is his relationship with the coach.
“For me personally,” said Jerry, “it has been outstanding and I know he wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a huge advantage, not so much as coach-athlete but as father-son and being a part of the growth process.”
The obvious disadvantage is that his being in the lineup can be perceived as favoritism.
“Sometimes people don’t like the fact I’m playing because my dad is coach,” he said. “I feel I’ve worked hard and earned all this.”
As son of a coach, Rance McCullough grew up on the football fields of Montana, where Jerry got his start, and here. Not playing was never an option.
The two discuss the game around the dinner table and Rance knows enough to be in bed before Jerry gets home following a loss.
On the field, he has become the coach’s alter ego, helping younger players learn their positions.
“We usually think along the same lines,” said Rance. “I think it’s genetic. I’d like to coach some day.”
For now, he and his teammates are counting on an improved season.
And Rance McCullough must address one concern about playing for Jerry McCullough.
“I’m uncomfortable when I ask about something at practice,” he said. “I don’t know whether to call him ‘coach’ or ‘dad’.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo