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Game splits Murray State kicker's family
Sometimes football seems thicker than blood, and Mary Hunter is certainly a hardcore fan.
Not only has the 80-year-old played fantasy football for two decades, she is the commissioner of her league. She’s also a devout University of Louisville fan. Her grandson, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, isn’t sure which team Hunter will root for when U of L and Murray State meet in Thursday’s season opener.
Her grandson is Murray punter/placekicker and Butler High School graduate Kienan Cullen.
“I was a Louisville fan; my whole family was,” said Cullen, an All-Ohio Valley Conference selection. “It’s kind of like a homecoming for my grandma and people who haven’t been able to make it to a (Murray) game. It’s nice to have them, even though my grandma is such a Louisville fan she’ll probably be wearing red.”
Cullen isn’t kidding. When his older brother, Desi, a punter for the University of Connecticut, got her tickets to a game against U of L, Hunter showed up in Cardinals gear. For the record, Hunter said she was teasing. How will Kienan Cullen’s maternal grandmother dress Thursday?
“I’m going to have to wear red pants and a Murray shirt,” she said. “How does that sound?”
Brendan Cullen originally raised sons Desi and Kienan to play soccer. Brendan Cullen is from Dublin and moved here from Ireland as a teenager in 1974, when his father’s job with Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. transferred him to Louisville. When Desi and Kienan entered high school, they played football as well.
Desi Cullen earned a scholarship to UConn, and the Huskies later offered one to Kienan, who is two years younger. Kienan, who idolized U of L kicker Art Carmody, never received an offer from the Cardinals.
“They kind of pushed me to the side, like they did my brother,” the 6-foot-3, 224-pound senior said. “I definitely have a big chip on my shoulder going into this game. I definitely have something to prove.”
Cullen said he chose Murray over UConn for two reasons. He didn’t want to follow in his brother’s shadow. Also, UConn wanted him to “grayshirt” — a common practice in which a program asks an incoming recruit to delay his enrollment until the spring semester.
At Murray, Cullen kicked as a true freshman and quickly established himself as one of the OVC’s best. By his sophomore season he was a first-team All-OVC punter (averaging 41.0 yards) and a second-team all-league field-goal kicker (converting 14 of 17 tries).
Cullen is a triple threat, handling punting, placekicking and kickoffs since his freshman year.
“I feel like I’m pretty consistent in all three categories,” he said.
For a while, Cullen was one of the brightest stars on a struggling team. Murray went 5-7 and 3-8 in his first two seasons, prompting a coaching change. Chris Hatcher replaced Matt Griffin, and the Racers were 6-5 last year, their first winning season since 2004.
While Murray enjoyed a comeback season, Cullen missed a career-high eight field-goal tries, going 15 of 23. Still, he led the league in field goals, all kickers in points (89) and was an All-OVC selection.
Cullen said his struggles were mental. And Hatcher said the misses weren’t necessarily Cullen’s fault.
“You have to play the next play,” he said. “You can’t worry about the last play or the last kick. You could be the greatest kicker, but if you don’t have a good holder and a good snapper, you’re not going to be good. We struggled at that. This year we’ve really worked on it, and I think we’re a little better than last year.”
Murray is expected to be an OVC contender. Cullen and his teammates will find out Thursday how much they’ve improved. The last time the Racers came to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2007, they lost 73-10.
Cullen, who watched at his grandmother’s house, is aiming for a closer game. What if it comes down to a last-second field goal?
“I think about one kick at a time,” said Cullen, the youngest of five children. “I don’t worry about what’s on the line.”
And what about Grandma? “I’ll be pulling for Kienan, you know that,” Hunter said. “Blood’s thicker than water. He’s a pretty special guy.”
By Michael Grant, The Courier-Journal