Pro football player Dan McCullough.
McCullough's No. 92 for all time

By Bill Hunt

Over the course of his two seasons with the Fredericton High School Black Kats in 1999-2000, defensive lineman Dan McCullough won just about every award possible.

He was the team's rookie of the year and "dirty dog hat" award winner his first year. Defensive lineman of the year and team MVP and Western Conference defensive player of the year in his second.

Saturday, he will receive pretty much the only one that's left.

McCullough, the 26-year-old long snapper with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions, will have his No. 92 jersey retired at half time of the Kats' football game against the Oromocto High School Blues at FHS Field. Kickoff time is 1 p.m. in "The Jungle."

"I spoke to Don Davis about it back in the fall last year to find out if it was true that Dan was the first FHS player to go pro," said Mike Casey, the Kats current head coach. "It's sort of been an ongoing thing since then."

Dan can't be there Saturday - the Lions host Saskatchewan Roughriders Friday night - but his mom and his brother will be on hand, along with officials from the school to accept the framed McCullough's 92 FHS jersey, displayed along with the number 70 he currently wears with the Lions. It will hang in the foyer at FHS, along with the two other retired football jerseys, the No. 20 of the late Andre Houle, and the No. 14 of the late Chris Johnson.

Three hockey players have had their jerseys retired - Matt Stairs' No. 12, the number he has worn most regularly throughout his major league baseball career - the No. 11 of the late Tim Munn and the No. 21 of the late Rob Kelly. The women's basketball program has retired the No. 4 of Dianne Norman, who went on to play for Canada's Olympic team.

Athletic director Steve O'Rourke said he was approached by Casey, "and where he's the first football player to play professional football, it seemed logical."

"I think it's really great they're going to do that," said former Kats coach Larry Wisniewski. "Football has been at FHS now for 25 years and it was time for that to happen. I think it's a great idea."

Wisniewski fondly remembers the young man who filled the No. 92 jersey so well.

"He was always enthusiastic and full of energy and ready to work as hard as he had to in order to get where he wanted to be," said Wisniewski. "That, and the fact that he liked WWE wrestling and he was always telling me about all of the champions, all of the moves, all of the matches and everything that happened in all of the matches. It was the one other passion besides football that he seemed to enjoy."

Wisniewski remembers McCullough too, as "a trememdously blessed athlete. He was big, he was tall, he was fast. In some ways, his high school years were difficult because he was so much better athletically than the kids he was playing against."

Mike DeMello, the coach of the Oromocto High School Blues at the time, was particularly good at exploiting McCullough's enthusiasm.

"He would handle Dan by just inviting him to go outside. Dan would take it every time. Dan loved the quarterback...'Oh coach, I gotta get a quarterback,' he would say. So he would take off and he would go to the outside and go around the poor kid that was trying to block him with a full head of steam. All DeMello did was counter to the hole that was open because Dan would take such a wide, fast lane. DeMello did that five or six times. But Dan took it well and learned from it."

He went from FHS to Champlain College in Lennoxville for two years and then across the campus to Bishops, where he didn't miss a single game in four years at defensive end with the Gaiters. He registered 118 tackles, 96 of them solo tackles in 32 games and added 18 sacks. He was also the team's long-snap specialist and played in two East-West bowl games. He was a Quebec University Football League all-star in 2005.

Wisniewski isn't surprised that, of all the distinguished alumni from the FHS football factory, it is McCullough who made it to the pros.

"I've seen a lot of really good football players," said Wisniewski. "The thing that set Dan apart was his incredible capability to say 'This is something I want and I'm prepared to work as hard as I have to work to get where I want to be."

Even as a CFL veteran - McCullough is now in his second season in the black and orange of the Lions - Wisniewski finds that to be true.

"He always knows what he has to do and he never takes for granted where he is," said Wisniewski.

He's in Vancouver, of course. His mom Joanne and brother Dave will be on hand for the ceremony Saturday. It's a big game for the current edition of the Kats, who are among four teams along with OHS in a 2-1 logjam in the six team Southwestern Conference.

It will be dislodged somewhat by the time the Kats take the field. Saint John Greyhounds play their fourth straight road game tonight in Hampton against the 1-2 Huskies.

Friday, the Leo Hayes St. Mary's Lions are at Shamrock Park to face the 0-3 St. Malachy's Saints in the other southwestern showdowns.