Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

UW and former Gonzaga Prep star Devin Culp opened eyes at the NFL combine. Will he get drafted?

Washington tight end Devin Culp, a Gonzaga Prep graduate, celebrates a 41-7 nonconference win against Michigan State on Sept. 16 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Jennifer Buchanan/Seattle Times)
By Andy Yamashita Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Devin Culp had no idea what he’d just accomplished. His eyes scanned the scoreboards at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, waiting to see his time as he walked back to join the group of tight ends running the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

The former University of Washington tight end needed to do something to catch the eyes of NFL scouts and front offices. Culp knew his best chance to impress was during the sprint. His goal was to run the event in 4.48 seconds.

When former UW teammate Jack Westover rushed up to let him know he’d just ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, Culp’s only words to describe the emotions rushing through his mind were “extremely humbling.”

“I’ve been through a lot to get to that moment,” Culp said, “to be able to put myself out there in the best way possible.”

Culp’s 40-yard dash at the combine on March 2 was the fastest time among all tight ends at the event. It was quicker than Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold, on par with Georgia safety Javon Bullard and Michigan nickel Mike Sainristil and just two-hundredths slower than former Washington teammate Rome Odunze.

Penn State’s Theo Johnson finished second for 40-yard dash times among tight ends. He was one-tenth of a second slower than Culp. It was a vindicating experience for the former Husky, who didn’t think he was going to get a combine invite.

“For all the hard work and everything to come to fruition and pay off was a tremendous feeling,” he said.

Culp’s journey to the combine started months before he put his hand down on the turf in Indianapolis. After Washington won the Pac-12 championship on Dec. 1 in Las Vegas, he began discussing a predraft training program with Tracy Ford and Ford Sports Performance. Culp said he waited as long as possible to set up his postcollege plans because he wanted to focus all his energy on Washington’s College Football Playoff run.

His decision to train with Ford and FSP in Bellevue was an easy choice. Culp worked out there during the pandemic and was involved with the program since his high school days when he starred as a wide receiver at Gonzaga Prep .

For the first several weeks, Culp and his trainers operated under the assumption he wasn’t going to receive a combine invite. The 6-foot-3, 231-pound tight end’s pragmatism is one of his defining qualities.

“I’ve always been more under-the-radar or an underdog type of player,” Culp said.

He knew his six-year tenure on Montlake hadn’t filled out the stat sheet. Culp wasn’t the focal point of Washington’s offense under coach Kalen DeBoer, instead playing a secondary – and at times tertiary – role behind UW’s trio of high-profile receivers Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk.

Culp finished his 54-game career with 66 catches for 711 yards and four touchdowns. Westover had 30 more receptions than Culp in 2023, despite playing half the season with an injured thumb.

Yet Culp also believed he’d shown he was capable of competing with anyone athletically. His 22-yard helmet catch at the Coliseum against USC on Nov. 4 was one of the defining moments of Washington’s 2023 season.

A month earlier, Culp made another difficult reception against Arizona and current UW coach Jedd Fisch, falling backward while securing the ball despite having Wildcats safety Dalton Johnson draped all over him. His catch converted a third-and-16 and set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Dillon Johnson on the next play as the Huskies escaped Tucson, Arizona, with a 31-24 win.

“They didn’t know the athleticism in the kid,” Ford said. “He was a hooper in high school. He can run. He can jump. I think people didn’t truly understand how athletic he was because he wasn’t used as much at the University of Washington.”

Culp’s training program with Ford and FSP was strenuous. He worked out three times per day, six days per week.

“He had the eye of the tiger when he came in,” Ford said. “He knew exactly what was at stake, and he knew exactly what he had to prove.”

In the morning, Culp focused on speed training which included practicing running mechanics and agility drills. The afternoon workout emphasized weight lifting, while the evening session featured mobility training and any additional practice like catching passes or route running.

Culp gave special credit to FSP director of speed Andrew Mapp for helping improve his 40-yard dash time. They worked on starting technique and maintaining top-end speed along with other small details, which Culp said helped him put on a good performance in Indianapolis.

Then, Culp’s entire timeline changed. He vividly remembers receiving the email inviting him to the combine while relaxing on a random Thursday night. All of a sudden, the months Culp thought he had to prepare for UW’s pro day were shortened to less than three weeks to be ready for the combine.

“It was just a big blessing,” he said. “Everything kind of switched up pretty quick in terms of we had to ramp up the training and especially just locking in on the details of everything that goes into the combine.”

Culp called his preparation for Indianapolis “a whirlwind.” Along with training, he talked to former Washington teammates Kyler Gordon, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Hunter Bryant for advice, and found another familiar face upon his arrival at the combine.

After a long day of travel from Seattle to Indianapolis, Culp arrived in his hotel room to find his temporary roommate had beaten him there. He admitted a bit of anxiousness crept in as he wondered who he’d been paired with, before he spotted a clue about the identity of his mystery roommate.

“I peeked around the corner of the bed, and I see a Husky backpack,” Culp said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, they put me with Jack (Westover).’ I was so ecstatic.”

Westover and Culp, who roomed together during road trips for the past several seasons, were just two of the program-record 13 Huskies to participate in the combine. Culp said it was a joy to share the experience with so many teammates, while Westover added he was happy to play a small role in Culp’s 40-yard dash time.

“It was awesome,” Westover, who was recovering from thumb surgery and was limited at the combine, said. “I wasn’t able to do anything that day, so it was nice to have a guy do it for us. I’ll take a 4.47 for the crew.”

Outside of his 40-yard dash time, Culp said he was most proud of his performance in the pass-catching drills because he didn’t drop a single ball. He’s been open about his struggles dropping passes in the past, and Ford said they set a target of catching 100 balls per day to instill confidence in Culp’s hands before the event.

“We catch 100 balls, times six days a week,” Ford said. “That’s 600 balls per week, times eight weeks. I mean, we caught 4,800 balls between (the start of their training) and the combine. So for us to go catch five or 10 in a day? That’s nothing.”

Culp’s work has paid off, too. He thinks his results have convinced some teams to go back and take another look at his tape and consider his potential as he fights to prove he’s worth a late-round selection in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Detroit. He added he’s received lots of positive feedback from teams since posting his time.

Most important, Culp feels he proved he has what it takes to contribute and be productive in the NFL.

“I’m a very capable athlete and football player,” he said. “I’m ready to play at the next level.”