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Casey Cullen: Cullen makes dream journey from Interhall to scholarship

Chris Hine | Friday, November 17, 2006

It seems too improbable to be true.

A young football player comes to Notre Dame with dreams of suiting up in blue and gold. He spends his first semester playing Interhall football, but unlike many others, he does not abandon his dream of making the varsity squad. He keeps working, and eventually earns a spot as a walk-on.

That still does not satisfy him. He hustles everyday in practice to make himself better, earn the respect of his teammates and make the coaches take notice of him. Eventually, they do spot him, and reward the young man with an opportunity to play in every game – and a scholarship to boot.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but that is exactly what happened to senior special teams player/defensive end Casey Cullen.

“I was never really expecting the scholarship. Coach Weis told the senior walk-ons during the spring when he first got here, when I was a junior, that he was going to offer walk-ons a scholarship,” Cullen said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be a senior type of deal, but I told myself, ‘All right, I’m going to work as hard as I can to just show him I can play.’ As I did that he gave more time to play.”

Cullen comes from a family with a strong Notre Dame tradition. Both of his parents are 1977 graduates of Notre Dame and his great-grandfather, Christie Flanagan, was a two-time All-American halfback at Notre Dame in the late 1920s. He attended Saint Joseph High School in Victoria, Texas where he was named to the all-state team as a linebacker his senior year. Cullen’s primary responsibility on the team is on special teams, both as a blocker on kick returns and a tackler on kickoffs.

“On special teams, there’s a definite rush and there’s not nearly as much responsibility. It’s just use your athleticism and make a play,” Cullen said. “It is a lot of fun because you get to hit a lot of people. It’s my way of contributing to the team so I like it.”

His first taste of action – and the highlight of his career – came against Pittsburgh in the opening game of the 2005 season, when Cullen dressed for the first time, and forced a fumble.

“Coming out of the tunnel and knowing I was going to be on the field at the very beginning whether it was kickoff or kick return, I was going to be the first guy on the field, Cullen said. “Coming out of that tunnel their students were right on top of us, and coming out there for that opening kickoff was great.”

His performance against Pittsburgh earned Cullen the title of special teams captain for the next game at Michigan. The two opening games of the 2005 season were the culmination of years of hard work and dedication that led to the realization of Cullen’s dream of playing Notre Dame football.

“It was intimidating making the team at first because these guys didn’t know who I was or if I could play football. It was just you had to prove yourself everyday, earn a little respect everyday. It wasn’t until Coach Weis got here that I really got to make a contribution,” Cullen said. “My grandfather, Dick Cullen, and my parents have been a big inspiration for me ever since I was little. They’ve always been there for me, always there to talk to me and be real with me.”

After school, Cullen plans on following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and going on to law school.

“They’ve led me in the right direction so far,” he said. “So I look to them and do what they do.”