Cullen Christian had his college choices narrowed down to Michigan and Pitt. He committed to the Wolverines in November of 2009. He played in 11 games as a freshman in 2010. After his freshman year, his head coach Rich Rodriguez was fired and replaced by Brady Hoke. His position coach who recruited him out of high school Tony Gibson was also let go, along with the rest of Rodriguez' staff. Christian then decided to transfer back to his hometown school, Pitt.
He liked many things about Pitt in the recruiting process. Transferring back allowed him to experience both of his top schools. Transferring back home is a decision he hasn't looked back on.
"It's cool, because at the same time I get to come back home; in front of my friends and my family," Christian said. "It's a great program, and everything worked out for the best."
Gibson was his position coach last year before leaving and going to Arizona to join Rodriguez' staff in Tucson. Christian was a big help to the scout team defense last year, but it wasn't quite the same—knowing full well he would follow the same routine as the other players. It was tough knowing no matter how hard he worked, he'd still have to wait another full year to get on the field.
"It was kind of hard at first, but you just have to have the mindset that you're going to come out here and get better," Christian said. "I just took last year as a build-up year; learn the game a little bit more and get ready for this year."
Then came the coaching change when Todd Graham left for Arizona State, and replaced by Paul Chryst. Chryst hired Matt House to be Christian's new position coach. Christian said the transition to another position coach, now entering his year to get back on the field, has been an easy one.
"It's a real easy transition," Christian said. "I really like (House). We're on the same page. He works hard. I work hard. He expects a lot from me. I'm just trying to fulfill his expectations for him."
Better yet, Christian is a top candidate to become a starter at cornerback. Even though it's learning a new system, he has one year of experience at Michigan, and now a year just practicing and getting used to being at a new school. Winning a starting job should be a minimal task after all the transition he's experienced over the last year and a half, but he at least feels comfortable at the start of spring drills.
"It feels good to be in that real defense," Christian added. "I was playing on the scout team last year. I actually get a chance to compete for real instead of going through the motions with the starting offense. Our first practice feels good when we come back. It's reassuring."
House added that when he came in here, in order to better get to learn his personnel, he spent a lot of time watching film of last year's games. It might have been tougher to get a feel for Christian without any game film to go off of. House went a different direction to learn more about his corner.
"I talked to some people that coached him previously, whether it be in high school, at different places and kind of went from there," House said. "I'm working the indoor a little bit. That's about the pre-evaluation."
One other thing that helps him is an experienced group of safeties that he'll get to work with. Even though Jarred Holley will be limited this spring, rehabbing a knee injury, Christian has returning starters Andrew Taglianetti and Jason Hendricks to work off of. He also has a former teammate from Michigan in Ray Vinopal, who also transferred in with Christian at the same time—last spring.
"That's very comfortable," Christian adds. "Having a good safety makes the cornerback able to do a lot more. It's comfortable for me. We have a lot of safeties."
Then there's the Penn Hills aspect. Three former high school teammates are all heavily involved in the mix—defensive tackle Aaron Donald who led the team in sacks last year and linebacker Dan Mason who is making a remarkable comeback from a knee injury in September of 2010. Growing up with Mason, knowing him, and now seeing him rehab is something that Christian calls inspiring.
"Dan is probably the most work ethic of anybody I've ever met," Christian said. "He works hard every day. He works extremely hard. Look for him on the field this year. Aaron's going to come out here, and do some more like last year."
He went on many college visits with Brandon Ifill, and also worked out at the U.S. Army All-American Combine as high school juniors. Even though Ifill is someone he knows well, he says he's also going to be a challenge to match up with, now that he's at receiver.
"That's his comfort zone," Christian said of Ifill switching positions. "He's going to get out there. He's an athlete. He's going to get out there. He is speedy. You don't think that he's that fast, but he has wheels. He's a competitor, and I like going up against him."