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Talent, intangibles drew IU coach to McCulley early

Tom Allen likes that four-star signee Donaven McCulley is more than a quarterback

NCAA Football: Indiana at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Allen likes that his newest quarterback throws a good ball. He likes his quick release, too, and that he’s a tall, long and lean athlete who can play both in the pocket and on the run.

But there’s another quality that the Indiana football coach likes as much as any other that Donaven McCulley has to offer, one that’s not necessarily apparent in the recruiting rankings.

“The guy is competing in other sports and playing at a high level,” Allen said. “To me, that matters.”

McCulley, indeed, is more than a quarterback. He’s a multi-sport standout at Indianapolis’ Lawrence North High School, where he’s also a clutch performer for the basketball team and a participant on the track squad. To Allen, himself a former two-sport (football and wrestling) competitor, that’s the sign of a mentally tough, well-rounded athlete — exactly the kind of player he likes adding to his roster.

“(He’s) a gifted athlete that even last year before their tournament was canceled there in basketball, he is making game-winning shots in back-to-back games there in those high-pressure moments,” Allen said. “I just like that kind of thing.”

McCulley had a starring role in Lawrence North’s sectional title run this past spring, sinking the game-winning field goal in a win over Crispus Attucks before nailing the tying basket in the waning moments of his team’s eventual 61-59 victory over Warren Central in the championship game.

Although the 6-foot-5 McCulley has built his promise on the football field, passing for 6,211 yards, rushing for 1,274 yards, and scoring 47 touchdowns during his high school career, his ability to deliver in stressful situations is one of the many reasons why Allen is excited about his potential at Indiana.

“You want that competitive toughness,” Allen said. “You want that competitive greatness that a young man has. To be able to be at his best when it counts the most in those types of settings. So, that is what I saw out of him.”

And Allen saw it at an early age.

Indiana was the first school to offer McCulley, considered by Rivals to be the No. 100 overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting cycle. Allen’s staff extended a scholarship invitation to the budding passer in June 2018, getting an early in with one of the best athletes in the state.

Back then, Allen saw the physical upside. He also got a glimpse of McCulley’s mature personality, determining that he had the tools to one day take control at the most important position.

“I have a lot of strong relationships there at his high school,” Allen said. “I know the principal and the AD well. I went to high school with them — actually, was raised with them from New Castle — and (have known) his high school coach for a long, long time. Coach Patrick Mallory played here. When you know them that well, you get to know, ‘Hey, this is who this young man is,’ and they are going to tell you the truth because of that relationship, that trust you have with them.

“Just such a great young man, and you start talking to people around the school and the way he handles himself, and being able to take a program that he is coming from and help lead them to a historic season themselves, and help build that program there and be a part of that change and be a part of creating that belief there is just kind of the things we talked about — being able to do that here.”

In Bloomington, Allen has the luxury of letting McCulley navigate the learning curve at his own pace. With Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle on the roster, there’s no rush.

But when McCulley does get his opportunity to push for the starting job, Allen believes he’ll be equipped with more than the football skills needed to make it his own.

And to Allen, that’s important.

“He has got an opportunity to come here and be developed, and buy in like I believe he will, and work extremely hard in the weight room and in the classroom, and represent our program in a first-class way on and off the field,” Allen said. “So I just think that we are so blessed to have him.”