Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 63° Partly Cloudy
Sports >  High school sports

Gonzaga Prep grad Devin Culp was destined to play for Kalen DeBoer. Will he develop into UW’s next NFL tight end?

UPDATED: Mon., April 11, 2022

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

Devin Culp was destined to play for Kalen DeBoer.

The only questions were where and when.

Last offseason, after All-Pac-12 tight end Cade Otton announced he’d return to UW in 2021, Culp considered a subsequent transfer. The Spokane product had caught just one pass in three unproductive seasons in Seattle – buried behind Drew Sample, then Hunter Bryant and the aforementioned Otton.

Perhaps it was time for a change.

Culp tested the waters by contacting a pair of former teammates – Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener and wide receiver Ty Jones.

“But after long talks with Hunter Bryant – who’s one of my closest tight end friends I’ve made here at UW – and talking with my mom and others from my support system, they trusted that, ‘You can do this. You owe it to yourself to prove it to yourself that you can be the starting tight end here and do everything that you came here to do. Your dreams and goals are right in front of you,’” Culp recalled last week. “I guess I needed that extra little nudge of support from my family and loved ones, and that kept me in the UW boat.”

That boat, of course, promptly hurtled into an enormous iceberg – as the Huskies went 4-8 in 2021 and head coach Jimmy Lake and offensive coordinator John Donovan were fired before the end of the season.

Still, amid the chaos, along came Culp.

The 6-foot-4, 244-pound tight end recorded 20 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown in an elevated role – including five catches for 81 yards against Cal and six catches for 83 yards against Colorado. Culp flashed the athleticism that allowed him to excel in both football and basketball at Gonzaga Prep, while (somewhat) exorcising drop issues that previously permeated games and practices.

“Man, it was huge,” Culp said of his strides in 2021. “There were a lot of times where I was down on my confidence. But it was important for me to prove it to myself (that I could play on that level). I felt like I really did get to prove it to myself through the few starts and few moments that I got to go in and play last year. It was huge for my development and growth as a player.”

That development continued into the offseason, when Culp dropped six pounds and earned repeated praise from the strength and conditioning staff. He said Wednesday that “this is the best I’ve ever felt. But I don’t think this is the best shape I can be in. I think I can get in better shape and try to be as much of an iron man as possible so I can be on the field as much as possible and help my team as much as possible.”

As for DeBoer, he thinks Culp can help the Huskies in more ways than one.

“He actually runs better than I thought, so that’s really exciting,” the former Fresno State coach said Friday. “He’s athletic. He’s big enough where he can get in there and be physical and hold his end on that. So having those versatile guys, where every skill player is a threat to make a big play, is huge.

“When you can have a tight end who can control the middle of the field, isn’t scared to go over the middle, and when he gets that matchup one-on-one and gets the ball in his hands can actually outrun some people, wow. That’s what we’re looking for. He’s very versatile. It’s been fun seeing him and what he can do.”

The question might be: what will Washington let him do? DeBoer’s offense doesn’t utilize tight ends as heavily as the packages Donovan and Lake employed.

But while numbers may be lacking, creativity is not.

“I love this new offense,” Culp said with a growing grin. “I feel like it’s going to be extremely explosive. We got guys lining up all over the field. We’re getting spread out wide. We’re in tight. We got deep routes. We got nice crossers. We got options. There’s so many different tools and different routes they’re putting into the tight end bag, because they see what we’re capable of.”

That may ultimately include more than Culp. Despite Otton’s departure and the transfers of Mark Redman and Mason West, intriguing options remain among UW’s tight ends. Specifically, offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb called both Culp and Westover “wildly athletic,” and sophomore Quentin Moore seems equally capable of stretching the field. Four-star freshman Ryan Otton will arrive this summer, and UW could further strengthen the position via the transfer portal as well.

Regarding the recent transfers, Culp said “I can only speak for the guys who are here and who I’m in the room with, and we’re all loving the new offense. We all feel like we have an ability to use our skill sets in different ways, because we have such different body types. This is going to be an extremely explosive offense and I think coach Grubb and the offensive coaches are going to find ways to put us in great situations and make us as explosive as possible.”

At Washington, Culp and DeBoer are both in the boat.

Hopefully headed for calmer waters.

Coach Pete (Chris Petersen) used to say, ‘The days are long, but the time is short.’ And man, I couldn’t agree more with that statement,” Culp said. “It’s been really tough. I got here and we had Drew Sample, a fifth-year NFL tight end. Then we also had Cade, Hunter, some really good older guys that have all gone to the league.

“I look at it as a blessing, really. I was able to learn from some very elite tight ends. I’ve been able to pick little pieces out of all their games and take it with me out on the field and do what I can with it. It was definitely frustrating at times – especially as I was getting older, I was getting stronger, I was getting faster, I was learning the playbook better. I felt like I was prepared to play.

“But it’s all in divine timing, and I’m just trusting the process. I’m very happy with where I’m at right now and the opportunity that’s ahead of me.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.