Deland McCullough II honestly wasn’t thinking about coming home when his father returned to Indiana to be the Hoosiers’ running backs coach again.
It happened in February, days after the Kansas City Chiefs lost the Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with McCullough on staff as the Chiefs’ running backs coach. Deland II was still at Miami (Ohio) and planned on sticking out spring practice.
“When he got the job at Indiana, it didn’t even cross my mind,” he said on a Zoom press conference Thursday.
But by the end of April, he made the decision that he could and should come. By then, his youngest brother Daeh, a four-star safety in the Class of 2023, had decided to commit to Indiana. Not long after that, his brother Dasan, the No. 50 overall player in the Class of 2022, decommitted from Ohio State and joined the group.
Deland II wasn’t nearly as highly regarded of a recruit as his brothers. He was a three-star recruit and the No. 1,532 rated recruit in the Class of 2019. His offers had almost all come from MAC schools, and he did not get much playing time with the Red Hawks in the two years he was there.
But he saw an opportunity to play with his father and brothers and in the Big Ten, so he decided he couldn’t pass it up.
“It was something that just kind of happened,” Deland II said. “Due to other circumstances, I decided that it was something I wanted to do. After further conversation with my dad and the coaches after I entered the portal, they made it happen.”
For McCullough, Indiana is not just the place his dad coached. It’s a place where he spent six of his most formative years. Deland Sr. joined the staff for the 2011 season when Kevin Wilson was hired as head coach and he stayed throughout Wilson’s tenure until after the 2016 season when Wilson was let go. Deland II had just turned 11 at that point and was there until age 17. He played his first two years of high school football at Bloomington North, and at the time he hoped to stay.
“I had dreams of playing at IU even when I was young and my dad was coaching here,” Deland II said. “We were here for six seasons. I fell in love with it when I was young here in Bloomington. Just IU football and everything. The atmosphere. It just became a reality here in the last couple of months.”
It’s made for a nostalgic beginning so far as players have returned to campus and begun workouts as he starts to see the places again where he used to be able to get in as a coach’s son.
“It’s eye-opening, I would say,” Deland II said. “I know when I’m working out, I’m like, ‘Man, I remember when I was here when I was 13.’ It’s been a long road, but I’m really excited. I really like what’s going on so far. I can’t wait for this thing to really get moving.”
Deland II won’t be working with his father directly, of course, and in practice he’ll sort of be working against him. Part of his job as a safety will be to try to tackle his father’s running backs, but it will mean something simply to have him around.
“It’s exciting when you have your dad right around the corner, especially being on the same staff and everything,” Deland II said. “When we’re in this building, I expect him to be a coach more than he is my dad. That’s just what I expect. Outside of here, of course, is different. It’s definitely a great experience. Not a lot of people can say their dad is their coach at this level.”
But he isn’t just at Indiana for family reasons. He does want to make an impact on a Big Ten roster. He’s going to have to fight for playing time. The redshirt sophomore doesn’t have a clear path to playing time now with Devon Matthews back at one safety spot and Raheem Layne the clear favorite at the other. And his path won’t get any easier as he ages and his brothers join the roster. But he’s not discouraged by that and plans to make a difference.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing on a big stage,” he said. “This is something I’m hoping I can take full advantage of and go out there and show them what I can do.”
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