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These Days, No Mom Has it Better Than Darnell McCullough

It was never the plan, but in the past two weeks, three of Darnell McCullough's sons have decided to play football at Indiana with their dad, coach Deland McCullough. And she couldn't be happier.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It's late on Saturday morning on a sun-splashed spring day in Bloomington, and Darnell McCullough is sitting in her kitchen telling stories. Her husband is keeping their little boy – who's almost five, not four – entertained downstairs and her three older sons are all running around, doing their thing.

Their house at the end of the cul-de-sac on the south side of town, the one they just bought in a hurry a few months ago, is full of McCulloughs, all six of them. That's just temporary for the moment, with her oldest son just zipping home for the day from college.

But soon, it's on. The McCulloughs are all together now, all back in Bloomington once again. It wasn't the plan – she absolutely swears it wasn't the plan – how all the craziness of the past two weeks has brought this football family all back together again. 

But it's happened, and it's done, and Darnell McCullough couldn't be happier.

Her husband is Deland McCullough, Indiana's new running backs and associate head coach who left the Kansas City Chiefs and two straight Super Bowls to come back to Indiana. He's keeping little Diem entertained, and the big boys – "little Deland,'' Dasan and Daeh, all football standouts – all have things going on. 

A lot going on, really.

Two weeks ago, Daeh, who's going to be a junior at Bloomington South in the fall, committed to play football at Indiana in 2023. Then, a week later, Deland announced that he was transferring from Miami of Ohio and coming to play for the Hoosiers, too. With all that going on, Dasan, a top-40 recruit who had been happily committed to Ohio State, thought long and hard and decided to join Dad and his brothers in Bloomington, too, de-committing from the Buckeyes and casting his lot with the Hoosiers.

And just like that, Darnell McCullough had all her boys back together.

The question seemed obvious. "You have to be the happiest mom in town these days, aren't you?''

Darnell looked around her new house for a few moments, and took a deep breath. "Well,'' she said with a smile and a soft voice, "who's got it better than me?''

The McCullough, Deland and Darnell, and their four boys, Daeh, Deland II, Diem and Dasan.

The McCullough, Deland and Darnell, and their four boys, Daeh, Deland II, Diem and Dasan.

***     ***     ***

First off, let's dispense with the conspiracy theories. When Indiana hired Deland McCullough away from the Kansas City Chiefs in February, just a few days after they had played in their second straight Super Bowl, there was never a thought about all three of the boys playing together at Indiana. 

It was never brought up, and never even discussed. Not once.

"When big Deland got this opportunity at Indiana, what we talked about was how excited we were to be living here in Bloomington, because we loved it the first time, and how great it was going to be to be so much closer to seeing the boys,'' Darnell said. "We were only going to be two hours away from little Deland at Miami (of Ohio) and we were only going to be three hours away from Dasan at Ohio State next year when he got there.

"That's the God's honest truth. When we got here, that's what we talked about. We have all those Miami ties because big Deland played there, and Dasan was very happy with his Ohio State commitment. When we moved here, we never talked about it. And if one of us saw something on social media about it, Dasan was always 'no way, I'm going to Ohio State.' It's been that way for months, even two weeks ago when we were there for the spring game. He's been all-in from the beginning.''

But then the dominos started to fall, first with Daeh, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound safety who's a four-star recruit that had offers from several high-powered Power Five schools. He and Dasan enrolled at Bloomington South when they got here in March, and will play together this fall.

But this is also where that second conspiracy theory can be debunked. Daeh didn't decide on playing at Indiana after they got here. He's been planning on playing at Indiana since he was a little boy, because he fell in love with the Hoosiers when big Deland coached here the first time from 2011 to 2016.

"Daeh has always been all about Indiana, ever since he was little,'' Darnell said. "He's always wanted to play here. Indiana offered him when we were still in Kansas City, and he was just as interested in Indiana then as he was when he moved here. That just made it easier, I guess.''

The process started in early April, when Daeh was sure he wanted to play for Indiana. Discussions were had with Indiana coach Tom Allen and several of his assistants, and Daeh decided to commit on April 13. He chose Indiana over schools like Michigan, Penn State, Florida, Arkansas and more than a dozen others.

"He really does love everything about Indiana,'' Darnell said. "I know he was very happy with his decision, and that was before all the other things started happening.''

And they all started happening fast.

Indiana running backs and assistant head coach Deland McCullough poses on his porch with his three sons, who all committed to Indiana in the past two weeks.

Indiana running backs and assistant head coach Deland McCullough poses on his porch with his three sons, who all committed to Indiana in the past two weeks.

***      ***      ***

Little Deland gets that name from his mom because dad is "Big Deland'' when she's talking about both of them. But he's also the smallest of the three boys now, and he hears about it from his little brothers now and then. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder is three years older than Dasan, who's 6-5 and 225 pounds already. 

During Deland's senior year at Blue Valley North in Overland Park, Kan., a town over from their home in Olathe, both Kansas City suburbs, Dasan was a freshman and they were very excited to play together for the first time. But Deland's senior season ended after just three games when he got a torn meniscus in his knee. He wore No. 1 that season, and because of his big brother, Dasan has worn No. 1 ever since. They're all that close.

Brotherly love.

"That was hard on both of them, because they were really looking forward to it,'' Darnell said. "We had just gotten to Kansas City, and they had never had a chance to play together before. We talked about it then, that it was sort of that one chance for it to happen.

"Little did we know, I guess.''

Deland had a few Power Five offers, but chose Miami of Ohio, his father's alma mater where he's something of a legend. When "Big Deland'' graduated in 1995, he was the all-time leading rusher at Miami and in the Mid-American Conference. That, at the time, was an easy choice, too. He graduated early in December of 2018, and headed off to college at mid-year.

It was one of the hardest weekends that Darnell has ever had, saying goodbye to her oldest son.

"That was really, really hard,'' she said. "First off, it was December and the weather was horrible. There was a lot of snow and ice in the forecast, and we knew it would take forever to get there. We left at 3:30 in the morning and it was a long, long ride.

"We drove his car out there, and then I was going to fly back. After I dropped him off, I just started crying and I couldn't stop. I'm at the airport, just sitting there crying away, and these two older ladies came over to check on me. I think they figured something terrible had happened, I was crying so much. I was almost embarrassed to tell them the truth, that all I did was drop my son off at college. I can laugh about it now, but that was a sad, sad day. I have lots of family in Cincinnati where I grew up, but it wasn't the same. I hated being so far away from him.''

Deland first had to rehab from his meniscus surgery, and he got into one game for Miami late in the season and redshirted. Then COVID came and disrupted everything in 2020. He was home for a while — "which his mother loved'' — and then played in two games in the MAC's abbreviated season.

But Darnell said that Deland wasn't particularly happy there. And once the rest of the family got to Bloomington in March, he started to think more seriously about leaving Miami. Then there were more discussions about transferring.

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Deland entered the transfer portal on April 23 and committed to Indiana the next day.

"That was the happiest I had seen him in a long time, because something just wasn't right at Miami,'' she said. "And he had lots of friends here in Bloomington already, from when we lived here before. In fact, when we were living in Kansas City, he'd come stay with friends here all the time. He loves Bloomington. Now he gets to call it home again.''

And that made three. 

Darnell McCullough with her four sons.

Darnell McCullough with her four sons.

 ***      ***      ***

In the span of 10 days, Dasan McCullough, a four-star linebacker with enormous skill, had attended the Ohio State spring game in Columbus on April 17, and had seen one brother already commit to Indiana. And when the second brother committed a few days later, it really got the wheels turning in his head.

His parents never brought it up, the idea of de-committing. Dasan didn't either. In fact, he talked often at the spring game about how firm he still was in his decision.

But once it was clear that Deland was coming, too, the power of the moment became too big. 

A dad. 

Three sons. 

All on one team.

"It was funny. He was kind of quiet about it, to be honest, didn't really say a lot,'' Darnell said. "I'm the mom, so the football decisions really aren't about me, but I think the more he talked about it with his dad and his brothers, it all just really sunk in.

"I mean, let's be honest, this really couldn't happen anywhere else. How many kids get a chance to play football with their dad as a coach and their brothers on the team, too? It's not like they're all going to play on the Kansas City Chiefs together.''

Once Dasan made his decision, he kept it quiet, too. He handled his business and called the Ohio State coaches, and then announced last Sunday that he had de-committed and was heading to Indiana. The news met with rave reviews in Hoosier Nation, because he's the highest-ranked recruit in Indiana history.

Yes, history.

"The Ohio State coaches were really great about it, they really were,'' she said. "As much as they love Dasan and wanted him to play there, I think they understand these circumstances better than anyone. It's just too great of an opportunity to pass up.''

Darnell was mostly concerned about how the negative social media backlash would affect her son, especially from that rabid and occasionally off-the-rails Ohio State fan base, but she's fortunate to have a mature-beyond-his-years son.

"He just said, 'I don't care about any of that stuff,' when we talked about it,'' Darnell said. "Twitter can be a nasty place, and there were some bad things said. But I think most people understand how special this is. And those people who were really nasty, well, I just shake my head about them. These are kids. My kids.''

 ***      ***      ***

Deland drove home from Miami on Friday night to spend a couple of days at home with the family. All six were home together, and they had a nice family dinner together on Friday night, "a couple of large pizzas, which is usually what it takes,'' she said. "There was some football talk, but not a lot, really. Deland will be done with school soon, and we'll need to find him a place here on campus. We talked more about those things.''

But as they all sat there together, Darnell McCullough said she couldn't help but smile to have all her boys under one roof. 

The McCulloughs, one through six. Home sweet home.

Being a coach's wife is hard. Moving around is a given, as is making new friends at every new stop. Being a mother of four is hard too, as every mother knows. Darnell's been to thousands of practices and hundreds of games, all across the country. From Pee Wee games to Super Bowls, she's there for all of it.

That's what she does. And she loves every minute of it.

This was never the plan, of course, to have all her boys together. And that it's happening in Bloomington, well, that just makes it extra special. She already has friends, has their church, her rosary group. It's a natural fit.

"We really do love it here, and it's great to be back,'' Darnell said. "It's nice that we already have doctors, and have friends, and know where things are. It's great for the boys, too, because they have so many friends.''

She can't help but fast-forward to the fall of 2023, for that first September game at Memorial Stadium. A husband on the field, dressed in Indiana football gear. And her three sons doing the same, all together.

"This has all happened so fast, that it's sort of hard to absorb, to be honest,'' she said. "I guess, as a mom, you're just so happy for your boys that they're living out their dreams, and living them out together.

"And I know for Big Deland, it's just really special, too. To have one, then two, then three of your boys want to play football with you, it's just amazing. When I see them all together with their Indiana football stuff on, it just makes me feel so good.''

***      ***      ***

And then there's little Diem, the youngest of the McCullough boys. He keeps peeking his head out of the basement door, wondering if mom is done telling stories yet. It's getting close to lunch time – "and the parade to the kitchen will start soon,'' she says with a laugh. He's younger by a dozen years, and he gets dragged to practices and games practically every day, right at his mother's side. 

"The poor kid, sometimes at certain times of the year it seems like that's all we do, go to practice and games to watch his big brothers,'' Darnell said with a smile. "He's such a great little boy, though, and he handles it all pretty well.''

Diem is keeping his preschool commitment to himself. His big brothers get the spotlight now. He's got a birthday coming up. Some day, his time will come. Darnell knows that, too.

"Right now, he just wants to be five,'' she said with a laugh.

  • DASAN McCULLOUGH FLIPS: Four-star linebacker Dasan McCullough has de-committed from Ohio State to play with his dad and two brothers at Indiana. He is the highest-ranked recruit in Indiana history. CLICK HERE
  • BRONCOS SELECT JAMAR JOHNSON: Former Indiana safety Jamar Johnson was selected by Denver Broncos in the sixth round on Saturday, and he called it "a dream come true.'' CLICK HERE
  • 4 HOOSIERS  SIGN: Whop Philyor, Stevie Scott, Harry Crider and Jerome Johnson all signed undrafted free agent deals on Saturday after the draft. CLICK HERE