FB: VSN Interview with Dennis McCulloch
Oct 28th, 2011 @ 6:20 am | Author: B Lynn Fouts
Settled in 1874, Valley City, ND lies along the Sheyenne River and has I-94 running through; the only US Interstate that continues into a foreign country. The town of almost 7,000 is a long standing community that exudes friendliness. So friendly has it been that Vikings head coach Dennis McCulloch has made it his family home for 18 years, with no complaints. When asked what it is about the school that has captured him and his family for nearly two decades, he said community, it's just an enjoyable place; I'm a small-town guy and it fits our family.
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McCulloch has been head coach for the past 15 years and has directed the #16 Vikings to shared DAC titles in 2000 and 2005. This fall, as the Dakota Athletic Conference begins to fade away, he has snared his first out-right crown though he admits it feels a little different. We'll have an all-conference team but if we make the post season it will as an Independent. But, we will have won the first and last DAC titles.
What does he foresee as the future of VCSU football? We're going to look for a conference affiliation. We are continuing talks with schools in the area. Hopefully, the new league will be NAIA, since that is what fits VCSU best. It would be important to the school to have peer institutions as your league partners. The administration has invested considerably in our athletics and academics; (a $10.3 million addition and renovation of the Rhodes Science Center, new field turf at Lokken Stadium and a record year for enrollment, nearly 1,400). Recently, VCSU was named the #1 Regional College from among 97 colleges and universities in 12 states. Valley City State seems like a school that would be a welcomed addition for several area leagues.
Coach McCulloch was hesitant to name any outstanding players on this year's title team, instead he pointed to the leadership provided by the 13 seniors, all of whom were named captains at the beginning of fall camp, a precedent-setting move. They've all taken to their roles; they are all 4 and 5 year guys. I would be remiss if I did note though, that several players have distinguished themselves this season. Junior QB Tommy Zinke has tossed for nearly 1,800 yards and accounted for 19 touchdowns. RB A.J. Pfeifer averages 103 yards rushing and WR Le Theo Proctor has gained over 800 yards receiving and has tallied 9 touchdowns on the year. Linebacker Josh Hooey and D-line Jordan Maher lead a solid defense that since an opening night loss, has allowed just 17 ppg.
I did ask about that opening game when the Vikes hosted then #5 Morningside on a Thursday evening. We were happy we were able to move the football against a team that has been a top 5, top 10 NAIA team for most of a decade. We developed some confidence that we could compete with teams that play in the NAIA post season. I've known Coach Ryan for several years; he's helped at our Alaskan clinics. The Vikings put up 361 yards against the Mustangs and controlled the ball for 33 minutes before succumbing 35-17.
Having talked recently to St Xavier coach Mike Feminis who recruits 90% of his squad from the Chicago area, I asked Coach McCulloch about his recruiting philosophy. We really want to protect our back yard as much as possible so we hit Eastern North Dakota, NE Minnesota and South Dakota before we look elsewhere. But we do have contacts in Alaska, down South and recently in Hawaii. But the guys we bring in have to be a good fit for a small town. If they are, they'll stay like Cody Kilthau (senior starting safety from Mililani, HI) for four years and earn a degree.
Part of what draws players to VCSU is the stability of the staff. McCulloch has former Viking Gregg Horner as his assistant head coach and D.C. They came to VCSU together in 1994 and have formed a team on defense that has seen 16 school and individual records set. More impressively, their Viking defenses of 2000 and 2001 were ranked number one in the NAIA for scoring and total defense. That coincides with the last time Valley City made the NAIA post season. The Vikings ran into Carroll College in the first round both years; dropping a 24-21 home game in 2001 and losing 45-27 a year later in Helena. The Saints went to the semi-finals both seasons. Also long-time members of the staff at VCSU, Dave Rausch, another former Viking, is celebrating 25 years on the VCSU staff and Corey Anderson recently moved on after 13 autumns on the VCSU sidelines. That continuity has earned respect from peers and made for a stable program, 67-32 in the past 13 years.
Coach McCulloch talked about several of his mentors during his early years in coaching, starting with the D.C. at Northern State when he was there, Ken Heupel, who really let him dig into defensive football. Also, the Wolves head coach at the time, Dennis Miller was important with his development at NSU. Most importantly, was his association with Steve LeGrand, now at Minnesota Crookston, since that's who brought him to VCSU in 1994.
But no interview with a Vikings head coach can go long without mention of the Old Paint Bucket game with Jamestown College. Great rivalry, great environment! When I came from Northern State, we didn't have a real rivalry game like this and I learned early on about the intensity this game brings to the players, the coaches, the school, the entire community. It's all we talk about during practice. Some people think it gets too out of hand at games sometimes with the verbiage tossed about by students, but I like the screaming crowds, packed in. A football player doesn't want a half-filled, quiet stadium. We're two schools 30 miles apart, one public, one private and we recruit so many of the same guys. It's just a great rivalry that I hope we keep going.
Coach McCulloch wasn't willing to compare his other championship teams to this year's edition other than to say the 2011 version of Vikings football is better balanced on offense. As far as what he wanted people to know about Valley City State; it's a unique school in a friendly community where everyone knows your name. With this season's success still building; I expect everyone in the NAIA will get to know the Vikings by name too.
B Lynn Fouts