Bigger and Better
Tue. December 24, 2013 at 11:41 a.m. | By Eric Detweiler | StarNews Staff Writer | Eric.Detweiler@starnewsonline.com
Laney senior linebacker Coult Culler is the StarNews All-Area Defensive Player of the Year for 2013. The N.C. State recruit led the Buccaneers in tackles every game, despite constant attention, and finished as Mideastern Conference Player of the Year with 135 tackles. For the rest of the 2013 first-team All-Area selections, scroll through the slides.
With each passing football season, Breck Culler's memory seems more prophetic.
Culler never wanted to pressure his only son into the game, but the former Clemson lineman still recalls that first Pop Warner practice at Blair Elementary School. Before 7-year-old Coult had ever played a game with the Coastal Cowboys, Breck told his wife, Denise, that their son had a chance to be special on the field.
"From day one, I said, ‘Here we go,'" Culler said. "He's got it. That thing you can see, but you can't put your finger on it. He just plays with a passion. He doesn't go through the motions."
Coult Culler has maintained that spark his father noticed right away. He became a four-year starter at Laney, holding down one of the game's most physically demanding positions and made an oral commitment in May to N.C. State.
Culler still found plenty of motivation to produce his best season to close his high school career. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound linebacker faced schemes designed to avoid him at all costs nearly every Friday night and still ended up leading the Buccaneers in tackles each time out. After recording 135 tackles in 11 games, he was named the Mideastern Conference Player of the Year and is also the StarNews All-Area Defensive Player of the Year.
"I just tried to do my best to overcome whatever coaches threw at me," Culler said. "I knew a bunch of people were gunning for me."
Laney built its defense to allow Culler to roam freely, and, at times, he made the game look effortless this fall, chasing down the ball one play after another.
The linebacker posted 20 tackles in a loss to New Bern, and he turned in one of the best performances of his career in his final game, a defensive struggle at Pinecrest in the first round of the Class 4AA playoffs.
Coach Greg Ditz likened Culler to a man playing amongst boys, thanks to his almost unprecedented combination of physical tools and experience. He said that the quiet teenager's uncommon drive raised expectations for the entire team.
"He's intense on every single thing he does when he's on that football field," Ditz said. "A lot of coaches come from that kind of background, but he's even beyond that. It's unmatched by anybody I've seen on the high school level."
Culler's dedication to his craft started before he got to high school. His parents bought him a weight machine for Christmas in seventh grade, and he put it in his bedroom and dove into his own regimen.
At Laney, he made it a goal to be first in line for every drill, and he credits that attitude with helping him become a two-year captain. Last summer, he wanted to get faster and regularly doubled up on speed and agility workouts to boost the results.
Breck Culler believes his son had the potential to be even better at baseball. Coult Culler was a right-handed pitcher and left-handed hitter before giving up the game after ninth grade to focus on football.
"I was just set on a mission that I was going to try to be the best I could be," said Culler, who is expected to stay at middle linebacker at the next level.
Ditz never planned to start a 14-year-old freshman in the middle of his defense, but Culler forced his hand, showcasing the maturity to match a sturdy frame ready for varsity play. The youngster racked up 12 tackles in his first career start as a ninth-grader and never gave up the spot.
At the beginning, coaches encouraged Culler to remind ball carriers that they'd been taken down by a freshman. He quickly became well-known to Mideastern Conference teams and college recruiters, some of whom continued to send letters this fall in case he changed his mind about the Wolfpack.
Culler was presented a sledgehammer as the team's hardest hitter at its banquet after his freshman season, and he now has four of them hanging on the wall of his bedroom.
"He just makes plays," Ditz said. "You get to the point where you kind of take it for granted. Sometimes you're just caught up in the moment on a Friday night, and you're watching him just to see what he'll do next."
Eric Detweiler: 343-2261
On Twitter: @StarNewsVarsity