Justin McCullough has a simple reason for loving football.
"I like hitting people,” he said.
The teenager is broad and stout, perfectly suited for the offensive line and for popping defenders. But even though he lives in Oklahoma City, he can’t play for Douglass or Southeast or any other high school in the district.
Truth is, he can’t play for any public school in the state.
McCullough is homeschooled.
Oklahoma does not allow homeschool students to participate in public school athletics. While the state remains in the majority, the number of states allowing homeschoolers to play has grown to 24.
And the movement might get a boost from its highest-profile poster child ever — Tim Tebow.
The Florida quarterback was the youngest of Bob and Pam Tebow’s five children, all of whom were homeschooled by their deeply religious parents. Because of a Florida law that allows homeschoolers to play sports in the public school district where they live, Tebow played football for Nease High School in Jacksonville.
There, he won a state title and national acclaim. A scholarship to Florida followed, and Tebow has since won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.
Thing is, had Florida not enacted its law in 1996, Tebow wouldn’t have played football in high school.
"None of them would have played,” Tebow’s father once told the Florida Times-Union. "We weren’t going to back off our commitment to homeschooling just to go play football somewhere.”
There are options for homeschoolers in Oklahoma, including several homeschool teams in numerous sports. While those programs are growing, they are still limited.
Could that change?
Could Oklahoma one day have the Tim Tebow Bill on the books?
Oklahoma has some of the most favorable homeschooling laws in the country. Requirements are few. Regulations are minimal.
The state, in fact, is the only one with a constitutional provision that guarantees the right to homeschool.
While hard and fast numbers are difficult to come by — the state isn’t allowed to count homeschoolers —anecdotal evidence suggests homeschool numbers are on the rise in Oklahoma.
Still, there hasn’t been a push to enact a law or change the rule in more than a decade.
Ed Foster remembers it well.
The former Oklahoma lineman and his wife homeschooled their five children, and living in Norman, they found abundant athletic opportunities for their elementary-age kids. There were YMCA leagues and rec teams aplenty.
Then, the children started hitting high school.
"Then it was like, our kids want to keep doing this,” Foster said. "What do we do?”
Even though the Fosters were already involved with the Oklahoma City Knights, a homeschool basketball team, Ed wondered if there shouldn’t be more opportunities for his children and others like them.
A group of homeschool parents pushed for a change to the state laws, but the legislation didn’t make it very far.
The buzz has been minimal since.
"It’s never been a fight,” said Danny Rennels, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. "We’ve never had any fight with anyone over it.”
To participate in athletics at an OSSAA school, youngsters must be full-time students as defined by the Oklahoma State Department of Education and meet the attendance rule of 90 percent.
That essentially rules out homeschoolers.
And Rennels has little reason to believe that rule will change any time soon.
"I obviously can’t speak for all our administrators,” he said. "The feeling that I have gotten — the preference is for the kids to participate who actually attend their schools.”
To play or not to play?
Austin Brown made the varsity football team as a freshman, was elected treasurer of his class and earned straight As his first semester in high school.
His mother wishes things were different.
"Although our son is doing well in public school, we desire to homeschool him,” Gina Brown said. "We miss our quality time together as a family.”
Gina and Vann Brown homeschooled their oldest son for years. When he started kindergarten and struggled, they decided to give home education a try.