Gridiron nomad Christian makes last collegiate stop at WVU
After a taking a long and twisting path through three FBS programs and four conferences, “I feel I ended up in the right place,” Cullen Christian said.
That would be West Virginia, where Christian is a safety who plays mainly on special teams. He is a senior, making this the last stop on the college trail. The trip has been “interesting,” he said.
A coveted cornerback at Penn Hills, Christian started at Michigan, drawn by assistant Tony Gibson’s relentless pursuit. Christian saw limited action as a freshman before coach Rich Rodriguez was fired after the season. Gibson also left, joining Todd Graham at Pitt in 2011.
Christian followed. He redshirted his first season with the Panthers and played sporadically the next two. He battled injuries, inconsistency and a tough adjustment to a new staff after Graham served one season and took off for Arizona State. Gibson, meanwhile, went to Arizona, joining Rodriguez a third time (they also coached at WVU).
Returning home and again playing for Gibson made Pitt “the right fit” at the time, Christian said. But things soured. Christian, whose three years at Pitt spanned the program’s move from the Big East to the ACC, left after the 2013 season and and transferred to WVU, where Gibson had returned the year before and was the defensive coordinator.
“He’s the only coach I had some sort of relationship with,” Christian said. “He’s the only guy I felt like I wanted to play for.”
Most of Christian’s work on game day for the Mountaineers has been limited to special teams. He backs up junior K.J. Dillon, a three-year veteran who early on established ownership of the hybrid “spur” position in Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense. Christian knew the challenge confronting him, but “I never back down from competing,” he said.
“I think he had greater plans for himself and his career, and it just didn’t work out I’m sure the way he wanted or how he dreamed it would,” said Joe DeForest, who coaches the safeties and special teams. “We feel we can count on him at any time. It just goes back to who he’s playing behind.”
Added DeForest: “Love the kid, love to be around him. Very intelligent and understands the game.”
“I guess everybody has their different course,” Christian said. “I work hard wherever I end up. I just try to keep that going. Try to keep my work ethic up.”
Christian, who earned his degree in administration of justice at Pitt, said he has “zero regrets” about coming to WVU. He is happy to stay close to home and attend a school that offers graduate courses in sports management.
There is the matter of playing time, “but I can’t fight with the coaches’ decisions,” he said. “All I can do is stay ready and work my craft every day.”
Said Gibson: “I know he’s probably disappointed and all that, not being able to play every snap here. But he’s a great kid. He has a role on this football team, and he’s doing it well and accepting it. I just really like the way the kid practices and prepares.”
Christian hopes an impressive showing at WVU’s pro day next spring opens some NFL eyes as a cornerback or free safety. He said he put his time here to good use, working with strength coach Mike Joseph and battling talented players such as Kevin White and Mario Alford during practice.
“I got a lot of chances to get better,” he said.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.