2023 four-star recruit Daeh McCullough commits to IU

As a young Daeh McCullough watched Indiana games through the window of his dad’s office at Memorial Stadium, munching on chicken fingers and popcorn, he didn’t necessarily envision himself as a Hoosier.

The sophomore at Bloomington South was just a kid when his dad, Deland McCullough, was IU’s running backs coach from 2011-16. In fact, near the end of that first stint in Bloomington, Daeh quit football to focus on basketball.

But IU was still home. He can still remember sitting in his dad’s office during games, keeping an eye on both the field and his youngest brother, Diem. He can still recall begging his dad to bring him to practice every week, hanging out with receivers like Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn and quarterbacks Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld.

Daeh went back to playing football in middle school, while his dad coached the Kansas City Chiefs. Daeh’s body grew into a 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame. He was quickly considered one of the top 100 recruits in his class, his list of offers filling up rapidly. It didn’t take long for Daeh to make up his mind about where to play in college, either.

That part was simple.

Just a couple of months after his family moved back to Bloomington, with Deland again working as IU’s running backs coach, Daeh is now committed to play for the Hoosiers in 2023. He made the announcement Tuesday, but this has been a long time coming.

“I knew early in my freshman year, as I started my recruitment, Indiana was the school for me,” Daeh said. “Indiana has always been at the top of the list. It came to a point, I needed to make a move, without waiting.

“It didn’t feel like it was early. I feel like I was late. I was right on time.”

IU is starting to do early work on its 2023 class, pairing the defensive back McCullough with an edge-rushing prospect in Georgia’s Denzel Moore. For comparison, IU still has just one prospect, linebacker Kaiden Turner, committed for 2022.

What’s building in 2023 is part of the recruiting momentum IU coach Tom Allen hoped for in response to back-to-back January bowl games. And it’s not like Daeh was just an automatic commit because of Deland.

Throughout the process, Deland made it clear to his son he could commit wherever he wanted, and Daeh had an offer list that included Penn State, Michigan, Florida, and Arizona State, among others. When it became clear Daeh was leaning toward “staying home” at their old-and-new home of IU, Deland sat Daeh down.

It can be hard being an IU commit, the son of a coach, living in Bloomington. He needed to be prepared for it.

“He opened my eyes to everything that could happen,” Daeh said. “Anything I do can get out in the news, any little thing could be twisted into a story, to be different than it is. … But I feel like I’ve been under a microscope my whole life, being a coach’s son. My brothers were both highly rated recruits.

“Everywhere I go, I’m under the microscope.”

Daeh, even with his flirtation with basketball, has a strong football family. Deland McCullough Jr., who started at Bloomington North and bounced around with his dad to California and then Kansas, is now a defensive back at Deland Sr.’s alma mater, Miami (Ohio). Dasan McCullough, like Daeh, is considered a four-star recruit. He’s a 6-5, 220-pound linebacker committed to Ohio State.

It’s still early in his development, but Daeh started at corner last season for Kansas’ Class 6A runners-up, Blue Valley North. He started as a freshman, too, just because his size-and-speed combo was so apparent.

“There’s always a handful of mistakes in there, but those were mistakes made from a lack of experience, not talent,” said Andy Sims, the McCullough brothers’ head coach at Blue River North. “That third-and-8, understanding, hey, he’s not running a vertical route, it’s a comeback. Athletically, he’s been able to match up with everybody at the high school level.

“Getting a year under his belt, he was very productive the following year. He’ll take another huge jump this year, too. We have to remember, he’s still a kid. He’s still going to get bigger, stronger, faster, plus another year of experience.”

The choice of Deland to return to IU dropped the gift of two blue-chip defenders onto the lap of Bloomington South coach Gabe Johnson. It’s been very clear, early on, that Dasan and Daeh are a tight unit, making an early mark in the weight room and out on the field this spring.

Again, he’s just a sophomore defensive back, but Daeh is already squatting 315 pounds.

“I was joking with him the other day, he works hard in the weight room … ‘We might move you to o-line,’” Johnson said. “Having not been around him much yet, he kind of looked at me sideways and said ‘I don’t think I’m a lineman.’ I know, you’re not a lineman.

“But he’s a big corner, and he can play safety. I guess you have to wait and see, but I assume he’s pretty comfortable doing whatever, wherever you have needs.”

Sims can vouch for Daeh’s desire to give his all, wherever and however he can. In last season’s semifinal game, Daeh injured his right wrist in the first half, which swelled up quickly. Sims asked if he was good to go. “And he was adamant,” Sims said. “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”

Daeh went back out on the field, racking up pass breakups with a heavily taped club hand.

“I would have liked to have had that interception,” Sims joked, “but I understand why you couldn’t.”

Toughness and work ethic aren’t guaranteed just because an athlete is a coach’s son, but Daeh and Dasan have that mindset. Daeh credits Deland Jr., who wasn’t as gifted physically as his younger brothers, for setting a tone.

“Man, he was consistently working out, constantly going up to IU, going to the school, to do extra work. You could see he wasn’t joking around,” Daeh said. “It’s like he had a chip on his shoulder, something to prove.”

Daeh, now considered the No. 78 recruit nationally in his class, according to 247Sports, has been able to keep a level head about himself. As offers and interest consistent with his four-star status continued to pour in, it didn’t sway him from his long-held interest in IU.

Johnson remembers just asking Daeh what he was thinking as far as colleges, soon after he arrived, just because he was curious. Daeh only talked about IU.

Daeh loved watching the Hoosiers when he was a kid, up in his dad’s office. He has loved watching what the program has become under head coach Tom Allen, ascending in the polls in 2020. Since the McCulloughs have been back in Bloomington, they have had Allen over for dinner. So Daeh knows him.

“He’s just a great guy. He’s just normal,” Daeh said. “When I was talking to him, he never really talked to me about my recruitment. With him and my dad, it was just normal conversations, laughing at the dinner table.

“When I see him on the field, he’s a great coach. You know he loves his players. The LEO (love each other) part is for real. Everyone loves each other at Indiana.”

Daeh, officially a Hoosier commit, is prepared to share his love for IU with other recruits, as well.

“I’m playing an active role. You’ll be surprised when you see what’s going to happen in a month or a few weeks. … I’ve got a commit waiting to push that commit button,” Daeh said. “I’ve got a lot of people I’ve been hitting up.”

7 comments

  1. Well, that’s outstanding news! Now if we can just turn his older brother.

    Come on Dason, turn away from the dark side and help your Dad build IU into a Big Ten Champion. At OSU you’ll just be another in a long line of players put out by the FB factory. But at IU, you’ll become a legend!

    1. I hope this year IU has a great season to build off the past two years. Win the B1G and show his brother, IU is the best place to play instead of being just another players at OSU. Po you are right he could be a legend like others on the roster IU has now. If He doesn’t come then IU can pull in another great player and keep building the program.

      Daeh, welcome to IU and make IU the top program in the B1G. You are coming to a very good program with players that care about each other along with coaches that care about you.

  2. Some players prefer to be another player on a legendary team than being a legendary player or star on a non legendary team. In both cases players are confident they are good enough and personal preference.

    1. t, you point out that we never know what drives recruits to choose a school. We see IU as the best place to play but teens have different ideas and no one really knows what they value. OSU is a surer shot at winning a national title right now but IU is building a program to get there. A good example of why we don’t know what they think are top players still going to Michigan even when they haven’t been a contender for years. Michigan has only been better than IU over the past few years but not PSU or OSU. I hope IU is now better than Michigan on the field and in a couple of years can pull in top players; right now it is good seeing IU pull in more 4 star players.

  3. I watched two short videos of Dason yesterday after posting the comment above. My impressions from those videos are:
    1. Dason appears as if he’s already a full grown man! I’d hate to be a High School kid going against him this fall.
    2. He teased his father saying that he’s going to enjoy beating his Dad for three or four years. I found that an interesting comment.
    3. In OSU’s top-ranked recruiting class of 2022, Dason will be the third highest rated LB in that class. He’s obviously an excellent prospect, but he may not get a chance to start for three years! And that’s the risk so many of these highly rated players can’t see when their egos are being stroked throughout the recruiting process. They get lost in all the hype; being introduced to the shoe, looking at photos of OSU’s Heisman winners, seeing how many 1st round draft picks OSU has produced, visualizing playing in the National Championship game, etc. But they don’t realize the importance of “exposure” and in-game experience, and that for every star player on OSU’s roster, there are three very talented guys who get lost on OSU’s depth chart every season. And that’s why so many talented players end up transferring from schools like Alabama, OSU, Clemson, etc. If you’re good enough to be recruited by those schools, you’re good enough to be a star at almost any other school in the country.
    4. I noticed that Wilson was Dason’s recruiter. That makes sense since he used to be Dason’s father’s boss at IU.
    5. IU may not be able to turn Dason, and they may not even try, but I believe there is a good chance that if things don’t turn out the way Dason hopes they will, some day he may transfer to Dad’s program.

Comments are closed.