In 26 years as a high school football coach, I was fortunate to be associated with many outstanding players. I relished their achievements on and off the field. It was especially gratifying when those who went off to college earned their degrees, whether as a student-athlete or as a traditional student.
I learned very early in my coaching career that helping players be the best that they could be was my job. I knew that from time to time I would be blessed with players whose size and talent would allow them to play collegiately. However, ultimately it was my job to win by making the athletes I had the best high school football players that I could.
Andre Culpepper was one young man who defied the odds and, as an undersized defensive lineman, not only was a great high school player but went on to a distinguished college career at West Georgia.
Culpepper was a rarity. He lettered four years in varsity football at Thomson High from 1999 to 2002. His high school defensive line coach, current Thomson High defensive coordinator Lee Hutto called him “the best defensive lineman I ever coached. He played with great passion and intensity and gave the ultimate effort on every repetition in practice and games. He separated himself by outworking everyone.”
While standing only 5-foot-6 and weighing 205 pounds, Andre defied the odds and started for three years at defensive tackle for the Bulldogs. His 335-pound bench press and 415-pound parallel squat gave him the strength and speed to dominate his much larger opponents.
His high school career culminated with winning the 2002 State AAAA Championship. He was fourth in tackles on a star-studded defense and had three fumble recoveries and five sacks. He also made The Augusta Chronicle All-Area team.
Most players his size would have called it a career, but Andre dreamed of playing college football. He arrived at West Georgia in the summer of 2003 prepared to walk on the Wolves football team.
The coaches were skeptical and rules limiting the number of players small college teams could have on their roster delayed Culpepper’s opportunity. His persistence paid off. When attrition reduced the number of team members, Andre was given a position on the scout team entering the third game of the season.
Now weighing 225 pounds, he made the larger but slower offensive linemen who attempted to block him miserable. He was as strong, as them but much quicker. By his second week on the roster he had made the traveling team. After making two tackles for loss and forcing a fumble in the homecoming game against West Alabama, Andre started the last four games of the season at nose guard.
As a defensive tackle his sophomore year, Andre started five games and totaled 14 tackles, with four of them being for loss. He also earned a Special Teams Player of the Week Award. During his junior and senior seasons, Culpepper moved to defensive end and started every game.
Still standing only 5-6 and weighing 220 pounds, he was difficult to block because he could now bench press 395 pounds and squat 600. In the two seasons he totaled 50 tackles, but 15 of them were behind the line of scrimmage.
He also had 8.5 quarterback sacks and blocked three field goals. Five times Andre was recognized as Player of the Week. In his senior season he was awarded Special Teams Player of the Year and made Second Team All-Gulf South Conference.
His career is quite impressive for a young man who had to walk on and earn a scholarship. More importantly, Andre earned a chemistry degree in 2008. Today, while residing in Carrollton, Ga., he serves as a minister at the Word of Truth Christian Church in Breman, Ga., and is an analytical lab chemist at Interface Flora in LaGrange, Ga.
Often, great things come in small packages and Andre Culpepper used faith and determination to achieve his dreams.