McCullers the merciful

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When Tennessee's smallest football player, 5-foot-8, 171-pound Devrin Young, took a practice handoff right before everything went dark, he knew one of two things had happened:

1. He was about to witness a solar eclipse.

2. He was about to be engulfed by Tennessee's biggest football player, 6-foot-6, 362-pound Daniel McCullers.

Unfortunately for Young, it was McCullers. Fortunately for Young, the massive one was in a merciful mood.

"I came free and saw him running," McCullers recalled. "He's a little guy, so I slowed it down; I didn't want to hurt him. He's my teammate, so I slipped up on him."

Had Young been wearing an opposing helmet, however, he might still be hounded by ringing in his ears.

"He's going to the ground ... very hard," McCullers said.

The play in question occurred at Johnson City's Science Hill High School in Tennessee's first preseason scrimmage. It was a moment neither will soon forget.

"It was just a little power up-the-middle play, and he (McCullers) broke through," Young recalled.

Confronted by a man more than double his weight, Young's life probably passed before his eyes.

"Yeah," he said with a laugh. "Usually, I make a cut off of something like that but he caught me slipping. He showed some mercy."

Because McCullers showed some mercy, Devrin Young would live to scrimmage another day.

Devrin Young's future as a healthy football player was spared by McCullers in practice recently.
(Danny Parker/
"Yeah, Big Dan had a chance to blow me up," Young said. "But he showed me some love. After the practice, I told him 'Thank you for that.'"

Believe it or not, McCullers isn't as massive as he once was. He admits carrying 390 pounds when he played for Georgia Military Academy last fall. He says he weighs 362 currently and is shooting for 350, a number he hasn't seen since his freshman year in high school.

Noting that he is "very much improved" physically, he says the loss of 28 pounds represents "a big drop-off."

Although McCullers has more mobility at 362 than he had at 390, the biggest improvement he notes is in stamina.

"I'd go like four plays and I'd be very tired," he recalled. "Right now I can go more than four plays because I've dropped so much weight."

No gentle giant, McCullers thoroughly enjoys intimidating opponents with his size. He fondly recalls seeing fear in the eyes of rival offensive linemen during his days at Southeast Raleigh (N.C.) High School.

"When I'd look at 'em I'd see a little fright in 'em," he said. "It was all good."

Naturally, McCullers has seen more than his share of cut blocks from opponents who elected to chop at his knees rather than challenge his massive upper body.

"In junior college they did cut a lot," he recalled. "I'd put my hands down and shove 'em off."

Then fall on them?

"Yeah," he said, smiling softly. "Sometimes I did."

Many of the high school and junior college running backs McCullers faced wisely chose to run out of bounds. The ones who didn't generally paid dearly.

"When I usually tackle somebody I hear that noise ... oof!" McCullers said, flashing a wicked grin. "I can hear that when I tackle 'em."

One good "oof" convinced most backs to run away from the middle of the field when McCullers was playing nose tackle.

"They'd kind of run to the side," he recalled. "They'd run outside. They wouldn't come into the middle when I'm right there."

That's a strategy Devrin Young might want to consider.

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