Undervalued quarterback finds home at City College

By Dakari Thomas

 

There was little to celebrate on the Marist College sidelines as they won their last football game of the 2014 season.

It was just their fourth win of the season and against the Davidson Wildcats, who won only one of their 11 games. Teams with this lack of success usually switch out quarterbacks to notably influence their team’s performance.

For backup quarterback Lavell McCullers, the disdain he felt wasn’t due to the season ending. It was because yet another game passed where he didn’t touch the field.

As a freshman, it was understandable that McCullers wouldn’t see much game action. But on a team with almost as many interceptions as touchdowns, it was hard to sit on the sidelines believing he could contribute on the field.

This would be just another form of adversity Lavell would take head on.

Lavel McCullers photo by Eric Sun/Special to The Guardsman
Lavel McCullers photo by Eric Sun/Special to The Guardsman

Early days

McCullers grew up in Aberdeen, Maryland, about 20 minutes from inner city Baltimore, a city known to be one of most dangerous areas in the country. With the help of football and both of his parents, he steered clear of trouble in the streets.

“They have been my biggest supporters since day one, encouraging me in everything I did, even when things weren’t going my way,” McCullers said. “They helped me through a lot.”

One of his toughest challenges on the field is fighting off the stereotype of the black quarterback.

The assumption is not that black men can’t play the position; it’s that they do it in a different way by utilizing different skills.

They’re perceived to better athletes but not as “intellectually gifted” as those with fairer skin. Black quarterbacks are often labeled as “mobile” or “scramblers” and rarely praised for their acumen.

They are commonly forced to change positions upon entering college or the NFL, but McCullers doesn’t want that.

“Most African-American QB’s are known as run first, pass second,” said McCullers, who has worked hard to develop his game beyond what’s expected of him. “I have worked to make myself a passer that is enhanced by my running abilities”.

When it came time to look at colleges, he decided to stick with the ones that offered him scholarship opportunities.

“I went to a small public school that’s not known [to national recruiters]. I was getting interest from big schools but the offers never came,” McCullers said.  

McCullers would accept his only scholarship offer from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York before deciding to transfer to a junior college. It was a decision that led him to the cream of the crop in junior college football, the City College Rams.

“I started looking up the top JUCOs in the nation and CCSF was at the top of the list,” McCullers said. “I emailed coach Collins one day, letting him know that I was interested. They got back to me fast and then I was all in.”

 

Heading west

McCullers uprooted his life to move 2,558 miles away from family and friends, just to have a shot at his dream.

“Coming from a place that was somewhat close to home and then going all the way across the country was a big adjustment,” McCullers said. “Not seeing my family for months at a time… I had to grow up quickly.”

He stands at 6’3”, 215 pounds. After playing sparingly last year as a backup, he has finally seen action on the field.

In the first game of the Rams’ 2016 football season, coach Collins decided to play McCullers when starting quarterback Zach Masoli began to falter.

Now Lavell has separated himself from the pack, throwing for 1000 yards and scoring nine touchdowns in just three games. His success isn’t just his alone; the Rams haven’t lost a game with Lavell starting.

“He’s really playing well,” Collins said. “He’s really playing quarterback out there”.

With the arm strength that differentiates players at the next level and a poise in the pocket that few can replicate, it looks as though Lavell McCullers is on his way to achieving his quarterback dreams with the Rams.

 

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