Chris Culliver, who is headed to the Super Bowl as a starting cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers, remembers the lessons he was taught by his high school football coach, Nelson Smith.
Culliver is in his second year with the 49ers and had an outstanding collegiate career at the University of South Carolina, but some of his best football memories are from his years playing for Smith at Garner High.
He was a good head coach, Culliver said by telephone from San Francisco. He taught you everything you need to know to be a football player. And he was tough. Hed get on you when you were wrong. It was great to learn from him.
Culliver had many great moments while wearing the Trojans uniform, but the game he remembers best isnt a pleasant memory.
It was my senior year, (2006) and we were playing at (Durham) Riverside, he began.
Starting tailback Josh Oglesby was injured, and Culliver started in his place. Garner lost 14-9, and Culliver said things in frustration that he later regretted.
Smith called a rare team meeting after the club returned from the road game. Culliver refused to go, even after Smith told Culliver that if he left he was off the team.
Culliver was apologetic the next day and asked to be reinstated. Smith refused, telling Culliver to come back on Monday to discuss his status.
Smith let him return to practice, but told Culliver he wasnt going to play in the next game, a matchup against Fuquay-Varina.
Coach Smith said he was going to discipline me, that I was wrong, Culliver recalled. That was the first time Id ever done something like that since I had started playing, and it was the first time that Id had a coach discipline me like that.
He talked to me man-to-man and said what he was going to do and what he expected me to do. He told me that he was doing this as my coach.
Culliver had to apologize to his teammates and sit out the next game. He also was demoted to the scout team, the reserves who run the next opponents plays.
Chris responded well. He was incredible in practice that week, Smith said. We couldnt do a thing with him. If he was playing defense, the starters couldnt move the ball. If he was playing offense, our starters couldnt stop him. I dont know if Ive ever seen anything like it. He looked like a pro.
The team went undefeated through the rest of the regular season and reached the state 4A semifinals before losing to Riverside 15-13.
I only suspended three players during my career, said Smith, who has retired as coach but is the schools athletic director. Chris and Brandon Banks (Washington Redskins) are in the pros, but the other one dropped out of school. Two of them learned and one didnt.
Smith said watching Culliver play in the 49ers 28-24 NFC championship win over the New England Patriots was a great joy.
I thought Chris played great, Smith said. He intercepted a pass and he covered his man. He was around the ball. San Francisco sort of sticks him outside and tells Chris to cover one of the best athletes in the world each week. It is amazing to watch and think that I once had him on my team.
And for one week, suspended him.