There’s very little about Jeffrey McCulloch's game that would fall under the category of subtle.
Some guys hit like a ton of bricks in which the recipient feels the impact from head to toe, a la Daelin Hayes (Ann Arbor, Mich.). McCulloch is more of a wrecking ball who zeroes in on a player and leaves a mark at the intended spot of contact, seemingly sucking the air out of the player left in a heap.
McCulloch – a 6-foot-2 ½, 225-pounder out of Aldine Davis High School (Houston, Texas) -- is an interesting prospect in that he has the versatility to play any of the Will, Mike and Sam linebacker positions.
Does he defend 25 yards downfield the way five-star Caleb Kelly (Fresno, Calif.) can? No. But he has sideline-to-sideline ability, and anything in the flat is well within McCulloch’s wheelhouse. In other words, he defends the pass well, just not as much of the field as Kelly.
McCulloch particularly excels coming off the edge in a two-point stance. There is a determination and anger to McCulloch’s game/pursuit that sets a tone on the football field. His attitude establishes a presence on the field, and then he backs up that attitude with those wrecking ball tendencies.
There is a tremendous physical maturity to McCulloch’s game that goes beyond his years. This was a man playing high school football this past fall, which will help accelerate his growth/development on the next level. He appears to be about as well prepared physically as a linebacker can be matriculating to the college level.
McCulloch uses his hands as weapons. There’s a heaviness to the use of his hands, a sledgehammer-like action that contributes to the disarming of an opponent. There are times when McCulloch grabs and sheds like a veteran college football player. He uses his hands to keep blockers out of his kitchen, and then turns the tables by getting in the kitchen of the quarterback.
McCulloch likes to say he’s a combination of Jadeveon Clowney and Von Miller, and there’s truth to that. He plays with the physicality of a smaller (shorter) version of Clowney, and then comes off the edge in a two-point stance that reminds one of a shot-out-of-a-cannon pass rusher like Miller (while keeping in perspective that those are two of the best).
McCulloch is a light-on-his-feet athlete who is spring-loaded off the edge, but also has a bounce in his step that gives him the athleticism to change directions with the jab step of a running back.
Going by the nickname of Shark for his obvious ability to swoop in for the kill, McCulloch is a hungry football player. He plays with greater physicality than his listed 225 pounds.
McCulloch might remind some of former Irish off-the-edge defender Prince Shembo, who had a non-stop motor and played with the ferocity of a lion, whether it was a game or practice. McCulloch appears to be wired similarly.
All that being said, McCulloch – much like Caleb Kelly – is a good fit for Notre Dame, which is competing with Stanford, Texas, Texas A&M (where he did not, as expected, visit recently) and Florida. Those were his top five choices as of Dec. 13 (before the quarterback exodus with the Aggies.) He also made an official visit to Michigan.
There’s no doubt that Stanford has much to sell McCulloch with their recent string of off-the-edge standup defenders who have excelled in an ultra-successful Cardinal defense.
On the flip side, Notre Dame’s recent history at linebacker with Shembo, Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith is gathering steam that stacks up well from the immediate past.
If it comes down to Notre Dame and Stanford, it’s a tough call, particularly since McCulloch describes both programs when he says: “I’m looking for a prestigious academic program. I want to be a successful member of society and be a positive role model for all the little kids looking up to me.”
He would excel in Notre Dame’s Around the Bend program, led by former Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus.
McCulloch received a visit from Brian Kelly and linebackers coach Mike Elston the week after the regular-season finale against Stanford.
Listed as a four-star prospect and the No. 66 player overall, it’s not surprising McCulloch is rated Texas’ top linebacker.
If you’re wondering how Notre Dame stays in the race with the other national powers for a shot at a playoff berth on an annual basis, it’s by signing players like Jeffrey McCulloch.
This is a man who played among boys in high school and has all the physical characteristics to be a true standout on the next level. If he plays like a five-star prospect in college, it would not be a surprise. He has the necessary equipment in his toolbox.