Why Dasan McCullough decided to follow his brothers to IU

Dasan McCullough hadn’t even played a down in high school when two voices began telling him what he could become as a football player.

“You’ll be a first-round pick,” his father, Deland, told him. “You just have to keep your head on straight and keep working.”

The talent that has made Dasan one of the most sought-after recruits in the country was always apparent to his family. Before he started a game as a freshman safety at Blue Valley North, just outside of Kansas City. Before the 6-foot-5, 220-pound linebacker with a defensive back’s skillset became an Ohio State commit, one of the top 50 prospects nationally.

Deland, a running backs coach at Indiana, Southern California, then the Kansas City Chiefs, was telling Dasan what he could be, but the point was stronger because it had an echo.

Deland McCullough II, Dasan’s older brother, said the same thing.

“He agreed with him. I never forgot my dad saying that, before I got into high school football,” Dasan said. “I’ve always been really confident in myself. I saw it, too. It was just the validation that someone like that, my older brother and dad, said it too. Not just me thinking it.”

Dasan’s family has always played a major role in his life. So it maybe wasn’t unreasonable that people started wondering, when Deland took the IU running backs coach job in February, whether there would be any pull to the Hoosiers. Dasan put out a statement immediately, shutting down the rumors. He was a Buckeye.

Then his younger brother, Daeh, a highly rated safety in the 2023 class, committed to IU this month. That’s when thoughts about the Hoosiers started to stir a little more. It wasn’t anything serious, though. He was a Buckeye.

But soon after that, another turning point arrived. Deland II, a redshirt freshman at Miami (Ohio), was considering a transfer to IU. It was just last week that chatter about a move became an imminent possibility. That’s when everything changed for Dasan.

“During the week, when he was talking about him transferring, I just let him know right there, if this goes through, if this happens, I’m locked in with you. I’m going to come and play with you,” Dasan said. “He knew that. He knows how bad I wanted to play with him.”

So the dominos that led to Dasan’s announced flip from OSU on Sunday, bringing with it one of the most coveted commitments in IU football history, started back in February. That event in itself was monumental for the program, the idea that an NFL assistant like Deland McCullough would return to IU, and would reach out to Tom Allen about the job first.

But the weightiest domino in Dasan’s recruiting journey wasn’t Deland, or Daeh. It was Deland II, the hard-working older brother who wasn’t gifted with the size and speed of his siblings. Deland II, the underdog, was the brother who echoed their father, telling Dasan he could become as great as he imagined.

“I’d say he’s the big reason why I even play football, the reason I wear No. 1, the reason why I’ll wear No. 1 at IU,” Dasan said. “All I wanted to do as a freshman (at Blue Valley North) was play with him.”

And they will play together again.

Even if family connections swayed Dasan’s decision, this is still a massive recruiting win for Allen. IU pulled a versatile and athletically gifted linebacker away from the most dominant program in the Big Ten. The recruiting site 247Sports has Dasan as the No. 50 prospect in the 2022 class, as well as the No. 6 “athlete” overall, the highest-rated player IU has landed this century.

This past week, when Deland II was all but on his way to IU, Dasan sat down with IU defensive coordinator Charlton Warren to discuss his fit in the Hoosiers’ 4-2-5 scheme. Most of their focus was on the “stinger” linebacker, currently occupied by junior Cam Jones. But IU’s coaches believe Dasan can play either of the two true linebacker positions, inside or outside, plus the hybrid “husky” safety or “bull” rush-end spots.

“Watched the film for maybe an hour and a half, broke everything down on a Zoom call,” Dasan said. “That’s more important than playing with my brothers to me, making sure I’m being used correctly. Once I figured that part out and liked it, I sat down and thought to myself for a couple of days. Thought about it without any outside influences.”

In fact, Dasan said it was somewhat of a surprise to his father when he revealed he intended to switch his commitment to IU. Deland didn’t think it would happen this fast, at least.

This whole set of circumstances caught the McCulloughs off guard. Deland II had no desire to leave Miami (Ohio) earlier this year. Then his dad returned to IU, and then an opportunity to transfer to IU presented itself.

It was the same kind of progression with Dasan. He had no desire to de-commit from OSU. Then both of his brothers were IU bound. Once that was the case, Dasan and Deland II talked some more, including Saturday night.

“I could tell he was leaning that way because I know how much family means to him,” Deland II said. “It would be different if we were all committed to different schools. But if we’re all at one school and he’s at a different school, he didn’t feel like that was right.

“He made a family decision. He wanted to do something with his family.”

The McCullough brothers are just a tight unit. Deland II can remember when he was a kid, bringing his younger brothers up to the field at IU for workouts. Just simple ladder drills, because they were still in elementary school.

Those years in Bloomington from 2011-16, during their father’s first stint at IU, definitely shaped them. Daeh will recall sitting in their father’s office during games, watching through a window with his youngest brother, Diem. Dasan just loved being around the players, hanging around future pros Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard or playing ping pong with former walk-on Ricky Brookins.

Brookins would also like to show off his backflips.

“He’s a really good dude. He was really athletic, doing flips and stuff, it seemed really cool to me,” Dasan said. “He just grabbed my attention.”

They were always around football players, and their father, once a star running back at Miami (Ohio), helped them believe in what they could achieve. Deland II wasn’t the biggest, growing to about 6-1, 195 pounds. But he likes to call himself a “swiss army knife” in the secondary, someone who can play cornerback or safety, support versus the run or mirror in man-to-man coverage.

He’s someone Daeh and Dasan respect greatly.

“I model my game after him. I’m the same player, I’m just bigger than him,” Dasan said. “My younger brother, I know the type of safety he’s going to be at IU, smart guy, he’s going to be special. I expect to see us on the field soon.”

What Dasan expects to bring to IU, personally, is an especially versatile player. The most frequent comparison he receives is Isaiah Simmons, a rangy linebacker who played prep football in Kansas before starring at Clemson. Simmons grew up to become the No. 8 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2020.

If Dasan can be anything close to what Simmons was for Clemson, IU’s defense just gained an unrivaled talent. He also has unrivaled confidence.

“First and foremost, they are getting a winner,” Dasan said. “As far as me individually, as a player, they’ve gotten the best player they’ve ever gotten, the most versatile defender they’ve gotten, and that’s going to be shown at Indiana.”

While he’s confident in speech, Dasan followed that by saying he’s more concerned about actions than talk. He’s ready just to get to work, preparing to arrive on IU’s campus in time for spring football in 2022. There he’ll join Deland and Deland II. Daeh, considered the No. 78 prospect nationally in 2023, will arrive a year later.

It’s an exciting future. The last several days have been a whirlwind.

“Definitely a sense of relief. But right now, still all over the place mentally. I’m getting a lot of negative messages, too,” Dasan said, referring to OSU fans. “It’s not like the first time committing. It’s not all positive. There’s one fan base that has a lot to say about you, and there’s another fan base that supports your decision. I’m getting a little bit of both, and just tuning it out at this point and focused on playing football.”

Football, with family.

First, with Daeh at Bloomington South in the fall of 2021. Then, eventually, with Daeh and Deland II at IU.

“All three of us, we compete with each other,” Dasan added. “We always want to see who can be the best, who can be the fastest, the strongest, who can put up the most numbers,” Dasan said. “The biggest thing is all three of us want to win. That’s our goal going to IU. Stats are cool and everything, and all three of us want to go to the NFL. But winning will be the best part about it.”

10 comments

  1. It is hard to say what a magnitude it was to have McCollough wanting to come back to IU as our RB coach; now we have three very good players from the family too. Not often a team gets two highly rated players to flip from OSU especially IU.

    I can’t wait to see how this season works out for the Hoosiers. We have very talented players coming back and it will just be a matter of how well our two lines play this. If those two units match how our DBs play then IU will be an outstanding team in 2021.

  2. While Dasan and his brothers will eventually improve IU’s defense, which will have a positive impact on recruiting, I’m not sure his flip from OSU to IU will increase IU’s ability to sign other such highly rated FB players in the short term. The reason is that Dasan’s commitment to IU is based on a highly unique situation; the opportunity to play with his brothers and for a team his father helps coach. Other “top-100” HS prospects, at least in the next two years or so, will probably see Dason and his brothers commitment to Iu as an outlier, and not as organic.

    While TA and staff continue to improve recruiting, IMO it’s going to take a few more winning seasons, and a couple of big bowl wins, before IU will be considered a legitimate destination for players ranked as high as Dasan and Daeh. The “tractor beams” maintained by the traditional powerhouse FB programs are just too strong to be overcome in a short amount of time.

    1. IUFB momentum is growing because of the sum of positive individual events; Tuttle, Mullen, DM Sr., Mathews, SJ and a handful of others that come to mind. Like v acknowledged it’s happening before our very eyes. Like acceleration. 35mph, 38mph, 44mph, 51…

  3. Po, I agree about the need to have several more years of success like IU has seen the past two years to pull in many top players. However, I think a few more could come to IU this coming year. IU has had good success finding talented players that were under the wire but need to start pulling in more talented players like Dasan. I hope several in Indiana this 2022 class decide to join him and others. For example, players like Cooper from LN should be a slam dunk with McCulley at IU already. If we miss on him without another top receiver coming in it would be loss for IU. Caden Curry may see the increasing success at IU and decide to add to IU’s success like Dasan and others are doing.

  4. I’m just wondering if we’ll get to a Rose Bowl before those alien spaceships land…?
    Indiana is known for UFO sightings….Unidentified Football Object.

  5. I watched the news conference conducted by our new Defensive Coordinator and was surprised when he said (I paraphrase) that he’s not in a big hurry to recruit any Defensive Tackles from the transfer portal and that he has confidence in the D-linemen currently on the roster. he said he might take a look at what’s available on the portal, but that only players fitting IU’s culture would be considered.

    Honestly, I thought after the recent transfers at that position, the D-line would need to be reinforced by a player or two. Glad to hear that may not be the case.

    1. It’s the case. That is b.s.ing in that it’s important to have confidence in current players and team in case nothing else comes along or put another way unable to get another better player.

  6. Also, I read that QB Tayven Jackson (younger brother of TJD) just committed to Tennessee. Although IU was one of many schools that offered, I assume IU either had little chance of signing him or did not recruit him hard after signing Donovan McCulley for the Class of 2021. Can anyone provide any insight about Jackson’s recruiting and whether it was affected by McCulley’s signing?

    Tayven is going to find the Vols’ QB room quite crowded when he arrives in Knoxville. He’ll be one of five QBs on scholarship.

  7. McCulley has a long way to go. A really good QB should not be discouraged because of McCulley signing.

  8. And a fews hours after I posted that comment it is announced that a Defensive Tackle from Northern Illinois is committed to IU. Hhmmmm!

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