COVINGTON, Ga. — Things have changed for Quincy Cullins, Jr. since he last touched a football field’s turf.
The sophomore burst on the scene at Eastside as a dynamic freshman running back in 2017, and in 2018 he reprised that role to the tune of 300 rushing yards, 11 catches for 119 receiving yards. But on the defensive side of the ball may be where Cullins made his biggest strides.
Perhaps a bit undersized at 5-feet-6 inches and 165 pounds, he registered 60 plus total tackles and had seven tackles for losses, a quarterback sack and two pass breakups as an outside linebacker during the Eagles’ historic run to an undefeated regular season, Region 4-AAAA championship and quarterfinals state playoff run.
But when the 2019 season kicks off in August, Cullins will have traded in that Eastside Eagle green for Newton Ram blue. In fact, Cullins has already transferred to the county’s oldest school and started the new calendar year off with 5:50 a.m. workouts with Newton and new head coach Camiel Grant.
When asked about the switch, Cullins said he would greatly miss Eastside, but was equally excited about the new possibilities ahead of him as a Ram.
“Those guys at Eastside, those are my boys, and the coaches too,” Cullins said. “So, of course I’m gonna miss them. But, I mean, our family moved houses and it worked out for me to be at Newton. I feel like the level of competition Newton plays is the kind of teams I want to play.”
It is a big jump in classification. Cullins will go from a Class AAAA school to Newton which competes in Class AAAAAAA — Georgia’s highest.
Newton is situated in a region that contains state powers and often nationally ranked programs such as Grayson and Archer. In recent years, the Rams have played storied programs like Lowndes and Buford during the regular season. It’s the potential for those kinds of matchups that Cullins says has him salivating for the new season already.
“Those big teams, I want to play a team like Grayson or Lowndes,” he said. “That excites me. I feel like playing that level of competition and playing in that higher class, if I can do well there and get exposure on that level, I can get it on any level. I want to show a lot of people that with my skills at Eastside, I can come to Newton and do the same thing.
“If I can play against teams like Archer and Grayson and play well, it’ll show how slept on I am, and that I’m a good running back that can do big things.”
It’s an interesting proposition, considering the departure (due to graduation) of 1,000-yard rusher Taylor Carter, the 2018 Covington News Player of the Year, would presumably leave a hole for Cullins to have potentially filled as a feature back for Eastside next year.
With Carter gone, it would’ve likely been Carter and fellow sophomore Terrence Reid (512 rushing yards and five touchdowns) creating a solid 1-2 punch as juniors next season, with talented rising sophomore Ramon Hernandez and others providing depth.
But there are opportunities for Cullins at Newton also. Like Eastside, Newton will lose its leading rusher in 2018 — Adarius Thomas — to graduation. And like the Eagles, whoever replaces Thomas will have the arduous task of replacing a 1,000-yard rusher.
But at Newton, no other returning player will come into 2019 with more than 100 rushing yards to their name.
Cullins says he’s anxious to show that his game can translate to the highest classification in one of the most football talent rich states in the country. And that’s why hearing about those crack-of-dawn, morning workouts that Newton does was music to his ears.
“It’s early, but it’s nice,” he said. “Newton’s got a good program, good goals and other things. I’m excited about the coach and just being apart of what they’re doing.”
Cullins said he’s finding workouts a bit more grueling, which fits into his plan of using the offseason between his sophomore and junior seasons to become a more complete football player.
“I’m working on my explosiveness, and just trying to go hard during those morning workouts and after school to improve that,” he said.
Believe it or not, despite his diminutive stature, Cullins said he began his football career playing in the trenches.
“I started when I was eight years old, and I started out on the line as a tackle,” he said. “When I started playing travel ball, one day my dad talked to a coach about it and they tried me at running back, and I’ve been there ever since.”
He cites Atlanta Falcons running back, Devonta Freeman as his favorite player, and one whom he tries to pattern his game after.
“His explosiveness and his speed, his quickness and strength even those he’s a smaller guy like me,” Cullins said. “That’s why I like how he runs. It’s not too much dancing. He tries to get down hill fast.”
It's undeniable that tailback his Cullins’ first love. But even beyond that, he says he’s just a football player first, and he wants to become known as a great teammate for his new squad, more than just a good position player.
“It was fun playing on defense last year,” he said. “Everybody likes to play defense. Everybody likes tackling. But offense is my heart. I’m a running back, and that’s my first love. But it’s whatever or wherever coaches want to put me at. Whatever helps my team get better.”