TROY — There was a time when Jaydon Culp-Bishop was more concerned with marching on football fields than he was blazing trails up and down them.
“I used to play the saxophone,” the Troy football team’s star running back said. “I was pretty good, too. I was a second-chair saxophone. I could probably still play a few tunes if I tried.”
Culp-Bishop would eventually give up being a member of the band to be a ball carrier, much to the benefit of the Trojans. In Troy’s last playoff game, “Run JCB” became just the third 2,000-yard rusher in school history and will be leading Troy (10-1) into a Division II regional semifinal playoff game against Cincinnati Anderson (8-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at Miamisburg High School.
Culp-Bishop spent much of his youth growing up in the Dayton area. He learned at a young age he was blessed with blistering speed.
“Pretty much, I’ve always been fast,” Culp-Bishop said. “I remember when me and my little brother were little kids, all we would do is run races. We used to go around looking for random people to race. One time me and my little brother were getting our hair cut. Outside the barbershop, there were a couple of people racing and betting on the races. We went out there and blew them out. I thought being fast was cool.”
Aside from the small group running a questionable gambling ring outside a Dayton barbershop, however, it would be a few years before the rest of the world realized how fast Culp-Bishop truly was, and how that speed would translate on the football field, however.
That’s because the summer after his sixth-grade year, Culp-Bishop moved to Evans, Georgia. As the new kid in town, he didn’t feel comfortable going out for the football team. So he took up the saxophone, instead.
“I was new, and I didn’t really feel comfortable at first,” Culp-Bishop said. “I didn’t know anyone. Everyone talked different and dressed different. My grandparents really wanted me to play football, but I just didn’t want to do it. They would tell me, ‘You need to be playing football.’ But I wouldn’t do it. So I played the saxophone instead.”
By the time his eighth-grade year rolled around, Culp-Bishop had made a few friends around town and felt comfortable enough to try out for the football team. He said his skills were raw and he relied mostly on his natural speed.
“My grandparents had told me, ‘Next year is your last chance, you better be playing football,’” Culp-Bishop said. “I knew a little football. I didn’t play in seventh grade, but I had played it before. I ended up starting, but I wasn’t very good. I was just always trying to bounce everything outside and use my speed. I really didn’t know what I was doing.”
Still, though, Culp-Bishop showed enough raw talent that the Evans High School coach visited him following the eighth-grade season and told Culp-Bishop he likely would be starting in the varsity backfield the next season.
That never, happened, however, as Evans, Georgia’s loss would be Troy, Ohio’s gain.
Culp-Bishop moved back to Ohio and settled in Troy following the football season and ran on the Troy Junior High School track team that spring. He played on the Troy freshman team, but his running back skills still were largely undeveloped and he spent the entire year playing slot receiver and defensive back. His sophomore year, he also started the season at receiver.
“He would get some reps in practice at running back as a sophomore, but you only have so many reps you can give out in practice,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “But then in the third varsity game of the season, we moved Shane (Shoop) up to play varsity linebacker and he stayed there. Shane had been in the junior varsity running back up until that point. We had to find a running back for JV games, and that’s when we thought about Jaydon. We saw some things in him and thought he may have a chance to develop into a pretty good running back.
“At first, he was a typical young running back, looking to bounce everything outside. We knew he had a lot to learn about playing running back, but we also knew that as far as physical talents went, he definitely checked off all the boxes.”
Culp-Bishop would play almost entirely junior varsity as a sophomore, only seeing time in a pair of varsity blowouts. With Josh Browder rushing for more than 1,500 yards for the Trojans that season, Culp-Bishop picked up just nine carries for 56 yards in his limited varsity duty.
Browder would graduate following the 2016 season, but Culp-Bishop didn’t inherit the starting job at running back. In fact, in the season opener against Trotwood-Madison, he was the third-string running back, carrying the ball seven times for 9 yards. He saw increased duty in the second game, carrying the ball 16 times for 70 yards.
In the third game of last season, however, the fortunes of both Culp-Bishop and the Trojans would take a dramatic turn.
Trailing 16-7 to Bellefontaine at the half, the Troy coaching staff inserted Culp-Bishop at running back to start the third quarter. On his first carry, he broke off a 73-yard touchdown run. He would finish the night with 27 carries for 211 yards.
From that point on, Culp-Bishop has been the Trojans’ starting running back. He would finish last season with more than 1,500 rushing yards, earning All-Southwest District and All-Ohio honors. That, however, was merely setting the stage for this season. Culp-Bishop would continue to refine his skills on the field and push himself in the weightroom.
Although he’s only 5-foot-10 and a relatively trim 183 pounds, Culp-Bishop packs a punch when he carries the ball. He’s still able to streak past opposing defenders — something he’s done plenty of this season — but he also doesn’t shy away from lowering his shoulder and running over them, either.
“Probably his biggest improvement is his physical strength in his lower body,” Burgbacher said. “When it comes to squats and deadlifts, he’s one of the strongest kids on the team. The second thing is the learning that has come with experience. He kind of got thrown into the fire last year and learned while he was playing. He’s not just about speed anymore. Early in his career, he was a track guy playing football. Now he’s a football player who also runs track. He’s not just about straight-ahead speed anymore. He’s learned to make his cuts and accelerate. He’s learned to use his jump cut.”
The results this season have been obvious. Through Troy’s 10 regular season games and its playoff game against Harrison last week, Culp-Bishop now has 2,237 rushing yards (and counting). That places him third on Troy’s single-season rushing list, behind Brewer, who had 2,856 yards in 1998 and 2,336 yards in 1997. He surpassed Ferguson, who had 2,089 yards in 1956. Both Brewer and Ferguson, it bears mentioning, were members of the Troy Athletic Hall of Fame’s inaugural class and generally regarded as Trojan football royalty.
He’s rushed for more than 300 yards twice this season — 31 carries for 356 yards and six touchdowns in the playoff win and 28 carries for 399 yards (the third-highest single-game total in school history) and six touchdowns against Greenville. He also topped the 200-yard mark in three other games this season.
For his career, Culp-Bishop now has 3,835 yards in just 24 games of varsity action (two as a sophomore and 11 as a junior and senior), putting him fourth on Troy’s career list. He trails only Brewer (7,656 yards in 44 games), Ferguson (5,521 yards in 36 games) and Matt Dallman (4,147 yards in 34 games). He moved ahead of Gordon Bell (3,707 yards in 30 games).
What is most impressive about Culp-Bishop’s career total is the amount of yards he’s put up in so few games. Here’s a look at the yards-per-game averages of Troy’s career rushing leaders: Brewer had 174.0 yards per game, Culp-Bishop is averaging 159.8 yards per game, Ferguson averaged 153.4 yards per game, Bell averaged 123.6 yards per game and Dallman averaged 122.0 yards per game.
For Culp-Bishop, saxophone-player-turned-football-player, it’s all a little hard to comprehend.
“It’s like a fantasy to be up there with people that great,” he said. “The numbers they have are incredible. I didn’t think I’d ever be that good. To be mentioned with them sounds pretty good to me.”
Like sweet saxophone music to his ears.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong