McCulloch a cornerstone on Whitewater defense
Lance Leipold doesn’t normally peruse the defensive statistics after each of his UW-Whitewater football team’s games.
So it wasn’t until Tuesday that he realized that cornerback Matt McCulloch led the Warhawks in tackles in their season-opening 35-0 victory over Adrian (Mich.) on Saturday.
“I don’t look at those things a whole lot,” Leipold said Wednesday morning. “I knew he had the interception.”
But when McCulloch was named the Warhawk Defensive Player of the Game, Leipold took notice of what the Janesville Parker High School graduate accumulated during the opener.
McCulloch had seven solo and two assisted tackles for eight total points. That was 1.5 points higher than runnerup linebacker Lane Olson’s 6.5. McCulloch assisted on one tackle for a loss, and his interception in the second quarter set up a 70-yard touchdown drive.
Leipold said it was “rare” for a cornerback to lead a team in tackles, especially against a team that did not run a spread offense and attempt to get to the edges.
But that is what McCulloch did, continuing his strong play that attracted the coach staff’s attention during the Warhawks’ playoff run to the NCAA Division III title last season.
“He’s made great steps on and off the field,” Leipold said.
McCulloch initially grabbed the interest of the Warhawk football program while starting at quarterback and safety at Parker, where he led the Vikings to a Big Eight championship and 9-0 regular season as a senior.
“He had great anticipation skills as a safety,” Leipold said.
Many times a high school quarterback also will play safety because the positions require the ability to see the entire field, Leipold said. That was true in McCulloch’s case, and he was recruited to Whitewater as a safety.
But the Warhawks wanted to get bigger at cornerback, Leipold said, and McCulloch’s 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame was ideal.
It took McCulloch some time to get accustomed to the new role.
“I don’t think it was always a place he felt totally comfortable,” Leipold said.
By last season’s championship game against Mount Union, McCulloch had it down.
In the Warhawks’ 15 games, McCulloch had 27 solo and 19 assisted tackles for 36.5 defensive points. He had one interception, seven pass breakups and eight pass deflections and one fumble recovery as part of a veteran secondary.
This season was different.
McCulloch was the only returning starter in the backfield. Leipold commended the way McCulloch has accepted the challenge of leading all the new starters.
“He’s one of the guys that sees himself as a leader,” Leipold said. “He relishes that role. That was apparent in the offseason.”
And with one shutout already in the books, it appears he’s doing a good job at it.