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Freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley getting off to strong start at fall camp

Most of the storylines concerning IU quarterbacks this offseason revolved around one name: Michael Penix Jr. And for good reason. Penix Jr. played an integral part of Indiana’s success last season—from the iconic reach against Penn State to beating Michigan for the first time since 1987.

So much of the focus this offseason has been on Penix Jr., largely because Indiana’s expectations — and potential success — is reliant on his ability to stay healthy.

But on Monday afternoon, Indiana head coach Tom Allen mentioned a different, lesser-known name in the quarterbacks room: freshman Donaven McCulley.

“I’ve really been encouraged by his growth,” Allen said. “I feel that even some things today we were able to isolate certain parts of what we do and you could just see the talent, it’s shown up from the beginning.”

Freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley delivers a pass in practice on Aug. 9, 2021. Photo by Gracie Farrall/Indiana Athletics

McCulley, who attended Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, committed to Indiana last summer rated as the No. 2 player in the state, according to 247Sports. Given that he picked Indiana over Purdue, Iowa, Ole Miss and Missouri further signified how Allen has changed the overall perception and trajectory of the program.

As a senior last season at Lawrence North, he helped lead the team to its first winning season since 2005, throwing for 2,576 yards and rushing for another 506. He was also a two-year letter winner on Lawrence North’s basketball team, playing alongside Indiana basketball commit CJ Gunn.

Since arriving at IU, Allen was quickly struck by McCulley’s 6-foot-5-inch frame. In high school, McCulley was listed at 195 pounds. Allen said on Monday that McCulley is already up to 215. The fact that McCulley is already physically developed will certainly bode well for him in a smashmouth league like the Big Ten.

“You walk out there and you notice him,” Allen said. “Pure in the way he moves.”

Most of the emphasis for McCulley so far during fall camp has been learning the offensive system. But when his reads are simplified, Allen has seen McCulley make exceptional throws.

“When you kind of minimize the reads and aren’t trying to see everything, I think for a young guy they obviously see too much and it makes it hard,” Allen said. “But he’s a gifted player, very talented.”

But what Allen has been most impressed with is McCulley’s attitude. He’s absorbed information from coaches. He is always respectful. He’s a great listener.

“He just has a great demeanor about him, about wanting to learn and grow and get better,” Allen said. “I think that’s a good sign for mental development.”

It’s uncertain whether McCulley will see any meaningful game action this season, but the fact that Allen has already spoken so highly of him is a promising sign given how Indiana’s quarterback room currently stands. 

Throughout the summer, Allen has continuously lamented that Penix Jr. will be ready for the opener against Iowa on Sept. 4. But there’s still the uncertainty of whether he can stay healthy. His first three years at Indiana all ended with season-ending injuries: a torn ACL as a freshman, right shoulder surgery as a sophomore and another torn ACL as a junior.

Behind Penix Jr. is Jack Tuttle who, despite being a highly-touted recruit out of high school that certainly possesses talent, hasn’t proven himself at the collegiate level. In Tuttle’s two starts last season, Indiana went 1-1. In his lone win as a starter against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers only scored 14 points.

Entering fall camp, Indiana’s quarterback room was already relatively depleted after Dexter Williams tore his ACL last spring. So McCulley becomes all the more important and, if anything, he provides a viable safety net should things go awry. But this is just the beginning of McCulley’s young career, one in which he could eventually develop into the centerpiece of Indiana’s offense after Penix Jr. moves on.

“He’s going to keep getting better and better,” Allen said. “He’s going to be special.”

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