Missouri tailback Jared Culver defies norm on and off field

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | 9:10 p.m. CDT; updated 11:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Jared Culver breaks a tackle against Western Illinois on Saturday. Culver uses his bulky stature to his advantage on the field.

COLUMBIA — Bowser barreled his way down the right sideline, stuffed a Western Illinois defender with a stiff arm and saw nothing but the end zone ahead of him. For a moment, he thought he could make it.

"Then I kind of hit reality and thought, 'Someone's going to catch me,'" said the Missouri walk-on running back, otherwise known as Jared Culver.

Western Illinois finally dragged down the 5-foot-11, 250-pound junior, nicknamed for the Super Mario video game character, at the 14-yard line, good for a 60-yard run. Culver scored his first career touchdown two plays later, but his teammates couldn't help but tease their atypical tailback.

"They said I should drop a few pounds so I can get into the end zone the next time," Culver said.

Culver is by no means overweight, and he runs the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.67 seconds. But next to starter Henry Josey, listed generously as 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, and the other Missouri running backs, he is the last player you would expect to break away for big yardage.

Indeed, former linebacker Sean Weatherspoon nicknamed Culver (on Culver's second day on campus) because of a resemblance to the bruising half-dragon, half-turtle Mario character. Culver is basically a fullback on a team that does not recognize the position.

But then, "Bowser" bucks the norm in matters beyond football, too.

In the Missouri media guide, "Xbox 360" is one of the more prevalent hobbies listed. Culver's entry includes that — right next to writing poetry. It also reveals more about his high school days than stats and all-state honors.

In Downers Grove, Ill., Culver participated on his high school cheerleading team. He and a friend were only looking to goof around when they joined cheerleading practice one day after school, but they ended up coming back the next day. Eventually, Culver helped the team finish third at the state meet his junior year and second his senior year.

For Culver, it was an "insight into a different world." His high school teammates balked at first, but eventually they began to see his perspective.

"(At first) all my teammates ragged on me about it," he said. "They saw me toss girls around and they said, 'Oh, that's pretty cool.' I said, 'Yeah, it’s pretty tight.'"

Culver also joined the high school choir without realizing one of the requirements: performing in a musical. As if part-time jock, part-time cheerleader wasn't enough, Culver was soon a knight in "The Princess and the Pea," a show he had never heard of before. As with cheerleading, he enjoyed it.

"It was a blast," he said.

Culver said his mom's encouragement led him to "adventuring out of his comfort zone," and he used the new experiences to help make his character — as well as his report card — more well-rounded.

"I wasn't very smart in some of my classes," he said. "Some friends I made in choir were in those classes."

In his senior year, Culver struggled to make a decision between pursuing football or baseball at the next level. He chose baseball and went to play third base and outfield at Heartland Community College in Bloomington, Ill.

It did not take long for Culver to miss football. The thought of the gridiron "raised his blood."

"I needed to be hitting someone instead of throwing a baseball," he said. "You really don't know what you want to do until you've made a decision, and I wished I'd done (football) instead. I was blessed with the chance to come to Missouri."

Culver started this season, his fourth at Missouri, sixth on the depth chart. Injuries to Kendial Lawrence, De’Vion Moore and Marcus Murphy propelled him up, and his experience in the program compelled coaches to play him over fellow bruising back, redshirt freshman Greg White, who is also getting playing time.

Josey is the center of attention after rushing 263 yards last weekend and being named Big 12 co-offensive player of the week, but Culver added 86 yards and has been responsible for some of the more physical duties, like blocking to keep Josey from joining the injured list.

Running backs coach Brian Jones has noticed Culver's intelligence and willingness to do any job. He was also impressed with Culver's fumble recovery from the bottom of a pile during the Arizona State game.

"I don't know how he came up with the ball down there," Jones said. "I ask no questions."

Missouri's first-string defense does not necessarily enjoy more practice reps against Culver. They can usually muscle someone like Josey to the ground. Not Culver.

"For someone who's his size, he's pretty fast," linebacker Luke Lambert said. "He can run some people over if he wants to. You got to be careful what you do."

With Lawrence and Moore returning later in the season, Culver said he has no clue what his future holds for him. Blocking for Josey? Protecting the pass? Standing on the sideline? Plowing down the sideline toward the end zone?

As in the past, "Bowser" is up for just about anything.

"I'm not like everybody else at running back, so I have to use what I have use my advantage," he said. "Big 12 teams … see me out there, and it kind of puts a twist to it. I use everything I have to my ability. What I don't have, I try to make up for it."

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