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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

From Ohio, With Love

With mother's blessing, McCullough left Midwest to live with cousins and now starts in backfield for Saugus High.

October 27, 2000|DAVE DESMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAUGUS — Call him the accidental Centurion.

When Brandon McCullough got on a plane June 13, his 16th birthday, and left his home in Toledo, Ohio, he thought he was coming to Southern California for a one- or two-week vacation with his cousins.

Now he's taken up permanent residence in Saugus High's backfield.

He has earned his squatter's rights, bolting to third in the Foothill League with 404 yards rushing despite missing most of the first four games while Saugus confirmed his eligibility and assessed his ability.

Faxes and letters to and from single mother Brenda McCullough in Toledo confirmed she had signed over legal guardianship to Brandon's cousin, Richard Bailey, and aunt, Louise Bailey.

Woodward High in Toledo certified McCullough had not played varsity football as a sophomore last season.

Then-athletic director Bill Bolde of Saugus confirmed his residence and took the case to the Southern Section for approval.

"Everything was followed to the letter," said Bolde, now an assistant principal at rival Canyon (4-3, 1-1 in league play), which plays against Saugus (3-4, 1-1) tonight.

While McCullough waited for clearance, he rushed for 400 yards and three touchdowns for the Centurions in two junior varsity games.

He was approved by the third week, but Saugus had yet to recognize just what it had.

McCullough, 5 feet 9, 190 pounds, carried only four times for four yards in nonleague losses to Notre Dame and Quartz Hill.

"We thought he'd be great," Coach Ron Hilton said. "I just wasn't sure how long it would take."

He got his answer in the fifth week, when McCullough rushed for 196 yards and scored four touchdowns in a 42-14 victory over Monroe.

In three games as the primary ball carrier, McCullough has rushed for 400 yards in 57 carries and scored eight touchdowns.

He was confident as a junior varsity star.

"But I had no idea I would do this well at the varsity level," he said.

Originally, McCullough had planned to play at rival Valencia, but after enrolling was told by Coach Brian Stiman there was no room on the roster.

That's when he enrolled at Saugus--where four of his cousins had played--and began turning heads.

"During hell week, we saw him run and got excited," lineman Jeff Gallo said. "I've never seen anything like his moves. He's fearless."

Said Hilton: "We feel very fortunate to have him."

McCullough showed his mettle following the Monroe game, when he took a helmet to the knee and was told by a doctor that the injury might require surgery.

He treated the knee with ice and heat, then suited up the next week.

"He still hits the line and carries guys 10 or 12 yards," Hilton said. "I wish I had those knees."

Born and raised in Toledo, McCullough moved with his mother to Kentucky when her job was transferred.

He attended the eighth and ninth grades there, playing sparingly on the varsity football team as a freshman at Seneca High in Louisville.

The McCulloughs returned to Toledo before his sophomore season, but Brandon says he got itchy to leave again.

"I'm far away from home now, but I needed to get out and explore a little," he said. "I was cooped up in one state too long."

McCullough says he has always dreamed of going to college, preferably as a football player. Hopefully at Ohio State.

He's adjusted that dream.

"College is still my main goal," he said. "But I wouldn't mind going somewhere in the West now."

This vacation spot has certainly grown on McCullough, despite having to live away from his mother, whom he calls every week.

"She didn't want me to go because I was her baby," he said. "But she realized it would be best for me."

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