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With family's help, Penn State player hopes to grow into force on defensive line

JON SAUBER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Judge Culpepper

Brad Culpepper didn’t involve himself much in his son’s develop on the football field.

Culpepper stayed hands-off as his son played quarterback as a high school freshman and sophomore and continued to let his coaches do the teaching when his son transitioned to tight end and defensive end.

But once Judge, his son, made the move inside to defensive tackle as a college freshman, Brad switched up his approach.

“He was just kind of like, ‘Look, do your thing’,” Judge told the media Tuesday. “Ever since I’ve transitioned to (defensive) tackle, which is what he does, he’s been instrumental ... It’s been really cool. I’ve really taken a lot of that stuff that he’s been talking about and tried to implement it in my game. I really appreciate him not taking a hands-off mentality and trying to work me into a defensive tackle.”

Father shined on field: His increased role in Judge’s development was aided by his own football career. He was a first-team All-American at the University of Florida in 1991 and moved on to the National Football League, where he played for nine years. While he was a bulky 280 pounds in his playing days, you wouldn’t be able to tell he ever played defensive tackle if you saw him now.

That massive weight loss put him in a position to go on “Survivor” — twice — and allowed Judge to see what his dad was capable of doing.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” Judge said. “My dad is really into that whole survival aspect of it. He’s really into all that stuff ... It’s pretty cool to see them on TV.”

Pride in mom and dad: Judge took pride in his dad and his mom, Monica, who appeared on the show twice, for their performances on the show. He was especially prideful of Monica for one episode in particular, when she showed just how strong she was.

“My mom on her second season she did a food challenge,” he said. “She smoked a bunch of other people in it. She was eating like grub worms and cow eyeballs and a bunch of crazy stuff. ... I was impressed. I always knew my mom was tough, but eating grubs and cow eyeballs, that’s no easy feat.”

Body transformation: Monica’s eating performance was almost outdone by Judge’s as he prepared to enroll at Penn State. The then-high school senior packed on 40 pounds to get ready to play defensive tackle in college, but it wasn’t the right kind of weight.

That led to a redshirt season and a body transformation for Judge in his first year on campus. He didn’t see the field that year, even though a new rule made him eligible to play in four games while maintaining his redshirt status. Instead he began working on re-shaping his body to put himself in a better place to contribute as a Nittany Lion.

“Over the last two years I’ve really worked on it a lot,” he said. “My body fat is way lower and my muscle mass is much higher and I’ve kind of maintained that same 285 [pounds] since when I got here. It’s just much better weight and it feels better on me.”

His transformation paid off with playing time in all 13 games in his redshirt freshman season. Although that time primarily came on special teams, Judge still managed to record a half-sack in the Nittany Lions’ regular season finale.

A chance to establish himself: Now the depth chart has gone through a reset of sorts at defensive tackle. Robert Windsor is gone and vacated one of the team’s two starting spots. That spot should go to P.J. Mustipher and his role will now be free for the taking. New defensive line coach John Scott Jr. brings fresh eyes to the room and that could help Judge and other younger players establish themselves.

He’s had three months back home in Florida to help prepare for his redshirt sophomore season — which includes home cooking from his mom — and is in a position to show what he can do and break through in his third year on campus.

“I worked really, really, really hard these last three months,” he said. “I feel like I’m ready to take on a bigger role on this team. I’m excited. I’m really excited that all the work I put in will get to pay off.”

Following in father's footsteps: For now, it’s back to drills, conditioning and weight training for Judge and his teammates as the 2020 season hangs in the balance.

He’ll go into the season as a candidate to get more playing time thanks to the way his dad has pushed him and helped him along the way. Judge is glad to learn from him, but more than that, he wants to be like him.

“(My dad) was really successful at pretty much every level,” Judge said. “Honestly, I look at him and just aspire to be like him. He’s an incredibly hard worker. He puts 100% effort into everything he’s invested in. Growing up and watching that, he’s kind of set the path for me.”