McCulloch helped Lakers to playoff appearances, NAC championships

Pymatuning Valley’s James McCulloch was selected the All-Ashtabula County Lineman of the Year for the 2021 season.

James McCulloch let his play on the field do his talking.

The Pymatuning Valley senior has been a big part of team’s recent success.

At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, McCulloch just finished his third year as a starter at right tackle.

McCulloch and his teammates helped pave the way for the Lakers to win three straight Northeastern Athletic Conference titles and make two consecutive Division VI playoff appearances.

For his efforts, he has been selected the Ashtabula County Lineman of the Year for the 2021 season.

“It’s amazing,” McCulloch said. “It’s a real good honor. I’m glad to get the recognition for all the work I’ve put in.”

McCulloch is the second straight PV lineman to win this award. Victor Verba captured the same award last season.

Verba has helped McCulloch over the years.

“He was a good mentor,” McCulloch said of Verba. “I learned to stay low, keep the guy in front of you and kick step, which is a pass blocking technique.”

A lineman doesn’t have tangible stats such as yards gained, touchdowns, pass receptions or even tackles. Often times, the notable stats are team offensive yards and touchdowns scored.

“My running backs numbers or pancakes is what I look at,” McCulloch said.

With Verba among the departed this season, the line was instrumental in PV picking up 1,825 total yards rushing.

“James was an anchor on our line the last few years and helped PV reach new heights on the field,” Lakers coach Neal Croston said.

Devin Ray led the way with 685 yards and nine touchdowns, while Robert Verba checked in with 624 and 10 total scores.

“We all did pretty well,” said McCulloch, who was also a DVI first-team Northeast Lakes District choice this season. “We put a lot of work in.”

McCulloch also increased his leadership role this season.

“All of the seniors stepped up,” he said. “We just felt right to step up and coach the younger guys.

Originally this season, McCulloch was scheduled to play some tight end, and did so early on.

“It was hard for me to get outside,” he said of playing the position.

As a junior, the Lakers finished 8-1. After a first-round postseason bye, PV downed Hillsdale 18-8 in its second playoff game, before falling to state power Mogadore 32-14.

“That feeling after the win ... it was pretty sick,” McCulloch said.

McCulloch realized he had to improve for this season.

“I worked out the past three years in the winter,” he said.

Croston was impressed with McCulloch’s regiment in the offseason to get prepared both on offense and defense.

“James has been a dedicated player since arriving at PV as a freshman,” Croston said. “He went to college camps and worked out extra in the summer to make himself better and our team better over the past four years.”

With McCulloch’s high school career finished, he sought to advise the younger players while pursuing his own career path.

“We just told them to keep it rolling, keep the process going,” he said.

McCulloch is also working on playing collegiately with Ashland, Notre Dame College and Lake Erie interested in him as a player.

He said he’ll probably decide on a college next month.

“It’s been a dream of mine to play in college since I was young,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing. The hardest thing will be the speed of the game.”

McCulloch, who is interested in criminal justice, doesn’t play another sport at PV, so he’ll continue getting ready for next season.

“I’m running on the field every day and lifting after school,” he said.

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