Nice run: McCulloch eyes positive finish

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
— In the storied history of Janesville athletics, it would be impossible to single out the city’s greatest athlete.

There are too many sports and too many generations of talent to narrow the field.

Yet ranking Janesville’s most accomplished collegiate athletes is a simpler task. And arguably, Matt McCulloch might sit atop the list.

McCulloch will play in his fourth straight Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Saturday. The 2007 Janesville Parker High School graduate is the starting cornerback for a UW-Whitewater football team that is making its sixth straight appearance in Salem, Va., site of the NCAA Division III title game.

An All-WIAC first-team selection this season and three-year starter for the Warhawks, Mc-Culloch has a chance to be part of three national championship teams.

“What Matt’s been able to accomplish as a student/athlete at Whitewater is off the charts,” said Joe Dye, McCulloch’s high school football coach at Parker. “How do you write an ending for a story like his?

“Matt’s been blessed with a lot of God-given ability, but he has also worked his tail off to get the very most out of the college experience. I don’t know of anyone else from our city that has had that kind of success in college, and at such a high level.”

Football has been in McCulloch’s blood since he was old enough to walk. He grew up across the street from Parker’s football fields, and according to Dye, was a daily presence at practice dating back to when he was 5 or 6.

McCulloch was a rare twoway starter for Parker at safety and quarterback, and he led the 2007 team to a 9-0 regular season and the state’s No. 2 ranking for Division 1.

A 6-foot-2, 180-pound freshman when he stepped onto the UW-Whitewater campus, Mc-Culloch has beefed himself up to 195 pounds.

McCulloch misses not playing quarterback, but he says the secondary has been a perfect fit for him. He envisioned playing safety for the Warhawks, but coach Lance Leipold and defensive coordinator Brian Borland knew better. McCulloch’s size and athleticism made him a better fit at cornerback.

“Matt had to learn a new position early on and was probably in survival mode that first year,” Borland said. “But he quickly found his niche, and we found a cornerback with good size that could match up with the bigger and taller wideouts.

“We put Matt at cornerback out of necessity, and it has really paid off. He is one of the top defenders in the country, and to his credit, the bigger the game, the better he plays.

“I think two of his best games for us were the last two Stagg bowls. And I expect him to have another big game on Saturday.”

McCulloch’s biggest assignment on Saturday will be to shadow Mount Union wide receiver Cecil Shorts. The 6-2 Shorts was named the D3foot? ball.com ? North Region Offensive Player of the Year this season and has 63 receptions for 1,106 yards (third straight 1,000-yard season) with 17 touchdowns, despite missing three games.

Shorts caught seven passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s Stagg Bowl, although the Warhawks used more of a zone coverage defense than single coverage.

“We wouldn’t put Matt in a position to make plays and be a shutdown corner if we didn’t have a lot of confidence in him,” Borland said. “He’s very good at visualizing a play, and his maturity and experience back there makes a big difference.

“Shorts is a dynamic receiver, and he’s going get his catches and yards. But I know Matt is looking forward to the challenge and being a leader for us Saturday.”

McCulloch enters the game with nine career interceptions at Whitewater and 113 tackles. He leads the team in interceptions this season with six and is fourth in tackles with 41.

As impressive as McCulloch’s stats are, his won/loss record is even more staggering. In the last five years, McCulloch is 65-4 playing football.

McCulloch, the son of Tim and Kathy, knows what’s at stake heading to another Stagg Bowl. Not only will he be playing his last game with the Warhawks, but it also may be the last time he puts on a helmet and shoulder pads. He will graduate in May with a degree in physical education, with a minor in health. Teaching and coaching at the high school level is his career goal.

“I have really thought about the fact that this is probably my last game,” McCulloch said. “It will probably hit me more after the game and over the Christmas break.

“I just know that our senior class doesn’t want to be the one that doesn’t win it all. I’ve got a lot of great memories here, but winning the national title my senior year would top them all.”

Last updated: 3:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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