High School Football

Not all fun and games for one O-D Bowl participant

Gino Culotta is in a business state of mind this week.

In his mind, the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl linebacker doesn't have a choice.

Amid players with college offers to the biggest football schools in the country, Culotta is simply trying to prove he can succeed despite the fact he's spent the last four years in Brussels, Belgium. As any college coach will tell you, Europe isn't exactly a hotbed of football talent.

Still, Culotta is ready to prove he belongs.

"It's huge to me," he said after Thursday's practice. "A lot of kids out here are coming to have fun. I look at it as I came here and I gotta do well. That's the biggest thing. This is what all the coaches are going to judge me on. [The other players] had their whole senior season.

"And that's what I didn't have recruiting-wise. This means a lot more to me, I would say, than some of the other guys."

Culotta hasn't exactly had the easiest time when it comes to recruiting contacts.

For starters, his family moved around the United States quite a bit before the move to Brussels in 2005. Culotta spent time in Nebraska, New Hampshire, California and Georgia before his eighth-grade year.

So when his father, an executive with UPS, was transferred overseas, Culotta again began trying to feel out the football landscape.

He settled at the International School of Brussels, an English-speaking school with a laid-back, yet relatively successful football tradition. The school prospered among European competition, but American football coaches spend virtually no time mining the area for talent.

Besides not taking recruiting trips to Belgium because of financial concerns, college coaches generally avoid watching game film of players, believing the competition level is too far below American standards to accurately gauge a player.

"I wouldn't take offense if someone did argue that," Culotta said. "It isn't what it is here, but the point is there is a lot of talent over there. No one realizes there can be one standout over there. That's why I came back."

Although Culotta won't say so directly, many - including officials at this week's All-American game - think he could turn out to be a diamond in the rough.

After attending an O-D camp in Baltimore earlier this year, he was invited to play at an O-D Elite camp in Myrtle Beach last summer. Soon after, he was invited to play in the bowl game.

That led him to this week, where he is surrounded by players decked out in clothing from Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Texas and Southern California, just to name a few. Meanwhile, Culotta's "best bet" college-wise to this point is Duquesne, a Football Championship Subdivision team in Pittsburgh.

Just maybe, though, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outside linebacker will get enough of an opportunity this week to show he can play with the best.

"The biggest thing for me is exposure," Culotta said. "And that's why I'm here."

Sooner saturation

A good chunk of that college gear floating around Doug Shaw Stadium this week is Oklahoma crimson and cream.

Future Sooners account for eight of the 80 or so spots being taken up by the nation's top talent. That list includes offensive lineman Tyrus Thompson, a 6-foot-5, 290-pounder from Pflugerville, Texas.

"We all have heard of each other," Thompson said. "We network - MySpace and Facebook - and text each other.

"[Oklahoma coaches] let us know about it. We've already been talking before that. It's good to communicate with each other, get to know each other and build a relationship."

Other future Sooners playing this week are offensive linemen Austin Woods, Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin, running back Brennan Clay, receiver Kenny Stills, defensive tackle Torrea Peterson and defensive back Joseph Powell.

Still learning

Calhoun County's Brandon Golson has played fewer than 20 football games in his life, but that hasn't stopped him from already getting some serious recognition.

Golson didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school, and only then because of urging from coaches. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was placed at defensive end, where he racked up 18 sacks in just six games as a junior (he played only half the season because of injury).

He continued to impress as a senior and eventually was offered a scholarship to play at South Carolina.

"I was thinking about that junk," Golson said of his success despite a lack of experience. "I was shocked. I was surprised. I'm an athlete. It must have come natural or something.

"I learn new stuff every day."

Golson - who runs the 100- and 200-meter sprints for the Calhoun County track team - has been told he will likely play linebacker for the Gamecocks, but depending on his speed or possible further growth, he could also move to safety.