MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Because four-star rankings apply a standard to players before they even arrive on a college campus, Cullen Christian arrives at campus No. 3 labeled a bust.
He has one more season to rewrite that legacy.
“I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been and I’ve got a lot to prove,” Christian said during an interview with MetroNews “Sportsline” on Tuesday night. The eighth-ranked cornerback in the 2010 recruiting class has traveled from Michigan to Pitt, and now he’s trying West Virginia, still aiming to deliver on the talent that had 20 power-conference programs dangling scholarships four years ago.
“For people that haven’t seen me play in a while, I think I need to let everybody know the I’ve still got it, that I can ball. It’s just that I’ve got to get an opportunity to do that.”
After appearing in 11 games as a Wolverines true freshman, Christian sounded bewildered about the diminished role he accepted the past two seasons at Pitt. Down to his final year of college football, he wasn’t willing to accept it again.
“When I transferred home to Pittsburgh, it was nothing that I was doing wrong not to be on the field,” Christian said. “I never got a reason not to be starting. There was no good reason.”
Two games into last season, Christian was experiencing tendinitis in both Achilles, feeling unable to play full-speed and dubious about his role with the Panthers.
“I could still play through (the tendinitis) but it wouldn’t do anything but get worse, so I took some time off ” he said. “And when I took that time off I just realized I was going to move on somewhere else and play my last year of football.
“I realized that Pitt wasn’t the place for me and I wasn’t going to get a fair shot to play ever.”
He presumes no one will afford as fair a shot as West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who recruited Christian to Michigan only to be fired in the Rich Rodriguez house-cleaning a season later. The staff change led to Christian’s first transfer, ensconced in a series of honest-but-unflatttering comments that didn’t sit well with fans in Ann Arbor:
“I didn’t really like it up here. I didn’t like the campus, and really, I’ve been miserable since I’ve been up here. … When Coach Gibson left, it got crazy; I wanted to be with somebody who recruited me, somebody who knows me and knows what I’m about. That’s why I picked Michigan in the first place, and it was a different coaching staff, I wouldn’t have committed there.” — Christian to the Michigan Rivals site in April 2011.
Christian overlapped with Gibson during his transfer season at Pitt, but then the assistant was off to rejoin Rodriguez in Arizona in 2012. They will be paired up for a third time now, Gibson having returned to his WVU roots and Christian becoming essentially a college free-agent after earning his criminal justice degree at Pitt.
“No one wants to transfer even one time, so me transferring twice, I really didn’t want to do it,” he said. “But I’m chasing the dream. I want to be able to play in front of a crazy crowd. I want to be able to win games.”
The kid who turned 22 years old last week has 20 tackles in 25 career college games, with no interceptions and one pass breakup. On Tuesday he was in Morgantown leasing an apartment, and getting a new lease on a career that hasn’t matched its billing.
“If people really knew what happened behind closed doors, they would have a different opinion of me,” he said. “People don’t know the hours I put in when no one was watching. People don’t know how hard I worked.
“I’m a kid that’s hungry right now.”