St. Charles North graduate Nick McCullough said he’s enjoyed returning to the area over holiday break to reconnect with family and friends, not to mention catch up on his sleep.
He hasn’t been able to show off his national championship ring just yet, but that day will come soon enough.
McCullough was a freshman safety on the Wisconsin-Whitewater football team that won the Division III national championship Dec. 20, trouncing Mount Union, 52-14.
McCullough’s contributions during the season predominantly came in practice for the Warhawks, as was the case for most of the program’s freshmen. Still, the championship year was a memorable way for McCullough to launch his college career.
“I enjoyed every bit of the season,” McCullough said. “The guys on the team are just fantastic. You just have a ball practicing and stuff. You get down knowing you’re not going to play every down, but still you go out there and bust your butt and try to get the starters ready for the game. Everyone knows their role. All of us do it to the best of our ability because we know we’re all fighting for that main goal, which is the championship.”
The national title was the fourth in five seasons for the Warhawks, who finished the year with a 15-0 record.
The full team traveled to the national championship game in Salem, Va., but McCullough settled for monitoring most of the team’s road games from campus. He dressed for home games, seeing minimal action.
McCullough said transitioning to college football provided big challenges on multiple fronts, especially when it came to understanding how college offenses look to attack.
“Definitely the mental part because you just have to make all the checks and stuff based on the formation,” McCullough said. “It’s overwhelming at first, but when you get the hang of it and get into the program, you start to understand it. Now it’s becoming second nature, I guess you could say.”
While Wisconsin-Whitewater plays at the D-III level, McCullough found out quickly that high-caliber players were all over the field.
“The competition is really tough,” McCullough said. “Everyone’s got all-state, all-conference, all-area, all that stuff. We have a couple of Division I players who played a year or two at like Illinois, Illinois State, that transferred out because they didn’t like the program or whatever their reason was. So everyone is good.”
One of those transfers was South Elgin product Jake Kumerow, who piled up 1,331 receiving yards for the season after transferring from Illinois.
McCullough doesn’t yet have his hands on the Warhawks’ national championship gear – the shirts, hats and, eventually, the ring – but those goodies are coming.
McCullough, though, is more focused on finding his way onto the field in the coming years. He said a pair of safeties are graduating, but he expects competition for playing time to remain stiff.
There will also be the pressure of living up to the program’s lofty pedigree, but McCullough embraces those high expectations.
“I hold myself to a higher standard,” McCullough said. “I always set high goals for myself to make sure I push myself higher to achieve those goals, and everyone pretty much on the team pushes themselves, wants to get better and push each other ... so we do achieve those goals.”