Adorning the football locker room of Marshall High School is a slogan, the ultimate reflection of both the Statesmen program and one of the most stellar student-athletes to ever graduate from the Falls Church school: Full speed. Full time.
Just two years ago, high school senior running back Jordan Culbreath was stomping his way down the gridiron, hawking the football as a safety and weaving his sleek frame through lineman traffic en route to All-District honors and the team MVP award.
Since graduating from Marshall in 2006, Culbreath has moved on to the collegiate level, riding a tireless work ethic and unbelievable natural ability to one of the most successful seasons in Princeton University football history, all the while carrying that same motto he donned in high school.
Now a junior for the Tigers, Culbreath eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the last game of his 2008 campaign in brilliant fashion. He entered the Nov. 22 game against Dartmouth College needing just 70 yards to surge past the millennium mark, and instead made it with 206 yards to spare, racking up 276 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Big Green. After Culbreath darted his way to a 58-yard touchdown on his first carry, it became clear that he would reach the historic mark.
“The most exciting moment of this season had to be during the season’s final game against Dartmouth when I was told how many rushing yards I had accumulated,” Culbreath said in an e-mail to the News-Press. “I knew I had had a good game, but I wasn’t expecting to hear numbers that high. I wasn’t even thinking about 200, let alone 276.”
The individual game total was the second-highest in Tigers history and his 10 rushing touchdowns on the season were the most for a Princeton back since 2002. During the season, 5-foot-11-inch Culbreath, who relies on his speed to find the gap and burst to paydirt, finished with 1206 rushing yards on an absurd 5.7-yards-per-carry average, totaling 120.6 yards per contest.
“Most of the success I have at Princeton stems from the hard work I put in during the off-season, strong mental toughness and a desire to be the best that I can be,” said Culbreath. “And it helps to have a really good offensive line. There’s no way I could have done anything without their help.”
The success of Culbreath dates back to when he was 7 years old, the age at which he started playing football as a member of the Vienna Youth football league.
Culbreath entered Marshall as a freshman eager to push his way to the top of the Statesmen depth chart. His work ethic inspired those around him, specifically head coach John Biddison.
“Jordan is a great guy to have around in practice,” Biddison said. “If some lineman were lagging behind in sprints, Jordan would come back and do an extra one with them just to motivate them to finish. He’s definitely the forerunner of our motto, that extra piece we needed to get the program going.”
When Culbreath began to exemplify the motto gracing the Statesmen locker room, his successes on the football field took off. He was named the team’s most valuable player as a senior running back and free safety and earned the school’s Statesman Award, given to the top male athlete.
“When I started coaching here in Jordan’s sophomore year, we went 0-10 on varsity,” Biddison said. “But to have that guy hustling around during practice, working his butt off all the time, and utilizing every second of a drill, it added that dimension we needed to get the program ball rolling.”
Yet Culbreath’s achievements extended far beyond the hash marks. Described as an exemplary student by his peers in high school, Culbreath always had a knack for succeeding in the classroom. Now a mechanical and aerospace engineering major at one of the top universities in the world, the future looks bright for the budding star.
“All the teachers would talk about Jordan’s future academically, especially in the math department,” said Biddison, who also teaches math at Marshall. “He really helped this program in more ways than he knows. I still use him as an example when talking about the student-athlete, about playing full speed full time.”
Biddison fondly recalls a time in which Culbreath was out with an ankle injury, which hardly stopped the energetic running back from bounding about the sidelines, exhibiting the team-first attitude that become a staple of his at Princeton.
“When Jordan was hurt, he wasn’t sitting on the sidelines sulking. He was running up and down the sidelines, doing everything he could to help the team in every capacity,” Biddison said. “Most people would sit there, but Jordan was the ultimate team player.”
Culbreath said he felt it’s important to work at his full potential in everything he does.
“I try and carry that through to my efforts here at Princeton,” Culbreath said.
Hardly the outspoken player in this day of showboating football athletes with catchy nicknames, he’s more often seen gently tossing the ball to the referee after a big score than whipping out his Blackberry to make a call at the goalpost. However, this does not damper his innate knack for winning.
“The competitive nature is necessary in collegiate sports, because everyone was the best at their high schools and everyone is trying to do the same things you are doing,” Culbreath said. “You have to want to win and succeed in order to do so, nothing worth having is going to come to you if you don’t have the desire to go out and get it.”
He first started showing glimpses of the All-Ivy League player he is today in his sophomore year, when Culbreath earned Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors following his efforts in a 34-31 win over Cornell. He had 11 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns in this game, but the real honor came that night, when he was featured on ESPN as the top player on SportsCenter.
“It was a great feeling. I had received an e-mail saying that I was on the top ten at the number one position, but I didn’t really believe it until I saw it with my own eyes,” Culbreath said. “I had a hard time taking the smile off of my face that night.”
Entering his senior season, he’s shaken off the accolades garnered this past winter, instead choosing to focus on getting stronger in the weight room and improving his game on the field. To Culbreath, the name on the front of the jersey is far superior to the name on the back.
“I haven’t thought about any personal goals for next season yet,” Culbreath said. “I hope next year that we can have a little bit more team success. It would be nice to bring home a second Ivy League championship.”
Regardless of how he follows up his stellar junior season, everyone can be sure that Culbreath will be playing at full speed. Full time.