McCullen leaving his mark on Apache Junction - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

McCullen leaving his mark on Apache Junction

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Posted: Monday, September 8, 2008 10:15 pm | Updated: 11:11 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Shane McCullen loves running off left tackle, and Apache Junction High School football fans love watching him do it. But that will likely change next year when he suits up as an Arizona State Sun Devil and makes the transition to defense.

Regardless, it's safe to say that McCullen is the most talented player ever to come out of Apache Junction.

Since 2000, only two other Prospectors have been recruited to major programs - defensive lineman Jason Perry at San Diego State and offensive lineman Cody Anderson at the University of Arizona.

McCullen's scholarship to ASU under second-year coach Dennis Erickson is the most prestigious of the three, and there's a simple reason why.

In the Prospectors' first two games this season, McCullen has 13 carries for 226 yards and four touchdowns, plus a 97-yard kick return against Avondale Agua Fria in a blowout win Friday.

This despite being the primary target of every defense after a 2007 season in which he ran for 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns.

During his sophomore and junior seasons, McCullen rushed for a combined 3,428 yards and scored 33 touchdowns. He was named to the Tribune's Class 4A first team his sophomore year, and in both seasons, he was selected to the Desert Sky Region's first team.

Before his freshman year, McCullen considered attending some bigger, higher-profile schools in Chandler and Gilbert. Transferring to traditionally stronger programs has become commonplace in Arizona and other states.

But the motivation behind McCullen's potential move "wasn't athletic." Rather, it was academic.

In the end, McCullen stuck with Apache Junction after talking to former coach Max Ragsdale, an A.J. alumnus.

When he recalled winning the "fastest man" and "best overall" awards at the National Underclassmen Combine in Los Angeles his sophomore year, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound McCullen said it was "one of my proudest moments besides getting a college scholarship."

So what is the secret to McCullen's greatness? Speed, said his coach, Rich Milligan, who called McCullen's running style "deceptive."

"People do not realize how fast he is moving," Milligan said.

McCullen runs a 4.35 40-yard dash and was crucial in bringing a track championship to Apache Junction last year, when he anchored the first-place 400-meter relay team and finished second in three individual events.

McCullen's athletic talent is obvious, but what is not apparent is what Milligan calls a "tremendous work ethic."

Milligan should know. He's been working with McCullen since he was in the seventh grade at Thunder Mountain Middle School.

Milligan still remembers the day he met McCullen at his first eighth-grade practice.

"He was not on the team list because he was only in seventh grade," Milligan said.

So Milligan wondered if McCullen could hang with the older players.

"I think I'll be all right," McCullen said calmly.

He was.

"I think he understood what types of things he would have to do to get (to a Division I program)," Milligan said.

McCullen's hard work is evident in his academic performance, as well. He has a 3.7 GPA, which garnered scholarship offers from California and Stanford. It's that dedication that McCullen hopes will help him make a quick transition to safety at Arizona State.

That transition is already under way, as McCullen is playing a "roaming linebacker" position this season.

The Sun Devils will lose three safeties at the end of this season, but there will still be four on the roster, not including McCullen. The prospect of snatching one of those spots, the quality of the Sun Devils' coaching staff, and the fact that both his parents swam for ASU all contributed to his choice.

For now, McCullen will focus on the high school season. The Prospectors' depth chart is paper thin, which means he will have to perform on both sides of the ball for the team to be successful against 4A-I powers such as Scottsdale Chaparral and Scottsdale Saguaro.

"Playing both ways will be hard for everybody," McCullen said.

Just a little less so for McCullen.

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