The best college quarterback in Florida--that's what some draft
analysts are calling Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper, a 6'4",
235-pound junior who throws the ball 80 yards, runs a 4.6 40 and
has a 36-inch vertical leap. Although the Golden Knights are 0-3
in their second year in Division I-A, Culpepper is stealing the
spotlight from Thad Busby of Florida State, Ryan Clement of
Miami and Doug Johnson of Florida. "It's nice that people think
highly of me, but I try not to get caught up in those
comparisons," Culpepper says. "I'm just trying to help my team
Culpepper took a big step toward getting Central Florida, which
is located in Orlando, national recognition when he helped stake
the Golden Knights, a huge underdog, to a 17-14 halftime lead at
Nebraska before the sixth-ranked Cornhuskers rallied for a 38-24
victory. Culpepper completed 24 of 35 passes for 318 yards and a
touchdown, and ran for 34 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown.
"If he were at a more prestigious institution," Nebraska coach
Tom Osborne said after the game, "you'd probably hear more about
him for the Heisman."
Although Culpepper fumbled on a two-point conversion attempt in
the season opener, sealing Central Florida's 24-23 overtime loss
to Mississippi, he bounced back the following week with 13-of-27
passing for 299 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-31 loss at
He has been dazzling opponents since his days as a football,
basketball, baseball and weightlifting standout at Vanguard High
in Ocala, Fla. The New York Yankees selected him in the 26th
round of the 1995 draft with the intention of shifting him from
rightfield to pitcher, but they couldn't persuade him to sign
because football was his first love. As a senior, Culpepper led
Vanguard High to a berth in the Class 5A championship game and
was named the state's Mr. Football.
He was recruited by Florida, Florida State and several other
big-name schools, but most backed off when it appeared he
wouldn't have the necessary 2.0 grade point average in his core
subjects. Central Florida stuck with him. Golden Knights
assistant coach Paul Lounsberry worked with Culpepper's guidance
counselors, and by June of his senior year, Culpepper had gotten
his GPA over 2.0 and done well enough on the ACT to qualify for
a scholarship. By then the big schools were back at his door,
but Culpepper stuck with Central Florida. "I felt if they were
going to work so hard for me, that I owed it to them," he says.
Loyalty was a virtue he learned from his mother, Emma, a widow
who adopted him as a newborn and raised him along with five
cousins. Through her work at a state juvenile girls' home Emma
had met Daunte's birth mother and agreed to adopt the infant boy
at the girl's pleading. Emma made sure Daunte went to school and
stayed out of trouble. "She's my inspiration," he says. "If it
hadn't been for her, I wouldn't be here."
Central Florida is happy he is.
COLOR PHOTO: TED KIRK [Daunte Culpepper in game]