Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback put an article up today spotlighting new Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Daniel McCullers and his road to the NFL.
Robert Klemko’s piece details his struggles, through bullying, a chaotic childhood with addict parents, an unhealthy appetite enabled by his grandmother’s downhome cooking, and a timid demeanor that was often mistaken for apathy.
It’s a great way to get a better understanding of a player that many seem to think that they know, but don’t. Despite being projected as a possible third- or fourth- round pick, he inherited a reputation of laziness, while some questioned his commitment to the game.
But McCullers played football simply because he wanted to, not to make a living. It wasn’t until following his junior year in college, his first at Tennessee, when he was given a third-round grade that it occurred to him that he could have a professional future in the sport that he loves.
And he does love football. Several teams outright asked him if he loved the game during the combine, because they didn’t see passion on the field.
“But I do love the game”, he said. “I love being around my teammates. I love playing football. I wouldn’t be out there killing myself for no reason”.
Given the diet that he’s currently on, and learning of the food culture in which he was raised while living with his grandparents, it’s hard to question. A brief rundown of the menu he was accustomed to growing up:
There was fried chicken, baked chicken, candied yams, turnip salad, boiled potatoes, collard greens, squash, macaroni and cheese, turkey, lasagna, spaghetti, chicken, steak, chicken-fried steak, bread rolls, pineapple cake, chocolate cake, sweet potato pie… Between meals, Dan snacked on potato chips and fruit gummies.
No wonder he once tipped the scales at 420 pounds. These days he stocks up on Caesar salad and healthy flatbread sandwiches. He’s now a professional athlete, and with that comes greater personal responsibility, complete with team nutritionists to make sure you stay on track.
From the sounds of it, McCullers is just a big old kid who wants to play football, and will do what it takes, including changing his diet, in order to play. If true, that answers two of the main concerns that many had about him.
What’s left to be determined is if he can play.
How much did being asked to play in a 4-3 in his last year at Tennessee hurt what he put on tape? Can he learn to get off the snap quicker, more consistently, than he’s shown throughout his career? Can he overcome the fact that he stands at nearly 6’7” to play low and win the leverage battles? The Steelers drafted him knowing that he would be a project, but how soon can he show results?