Remembering the College Football Career of Division II Great Cullen Finnerty

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMay 29, 2013

College football has lost a legend following the death of Cullen Finnerty.

Finnerty was a former Division II star quarterback at Grand Valley State. He broke numerous school records, led his team to three Division II national championships and was thankful for every opportunity that came his way.

According to CNN, Finnerty's body was found in the woods of northern Michigan on May 28, days after leaving his family's cottage on a fishing trip. He was found under heavy foliage wearing fishing waders and a camouflaged jacket.

Finnerty called his family sometime Sunday saying he was nervous and wanted off the river.  No one ever heard from him again.

Per the report, Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts believes there are no signs of apparent injuries or any reason to suspect foul play.

Finnerty was 30 years old at the time of his death and leaves behind a wife and two children.

"He said he was leery of some things," Hilts told CNN Wednesday. "We are not sure what was he was leery of. No one witnessed anything."

An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.  

The family expressed concern that he had suffered from concussions in the past, Hilts said.

He was born in Brighton, Mich., and graduated from Brighton High School. He lettered in track and baseball, but it was football that was going to take him places. He was named Livingston County Player of the Year as a senior, was an All-Area First-Team selection by the Ann Arbor News and received honorable mention all-state.

Finnerty signed with Toledo out of high school in 2001. He redshirted that season, then transferred to Grand Valley State, where he sat out the 2002 season.

Even with two full years of riding the bench, Finnerty didn't miss a beat in 2003, as he led the Lakers to a Division II national title in his first year as a starter. He completed 230 of 363 passes for 2,764 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for 822 yards and nine touchdowns. Current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was the head coach of the team at the time.

And that was just the beginning of his historic career, as Finnerty later led the Lakers to back-to-back national titles in 2005 and 2006.

Three of the four national titles Grand Valley State has won came with Finnerty at quarterback. He also became the school's all-time winningest quarterback, finishing 51-4 as a starter. 

Even with all of the awards he won and his dual-threat ability, Finnerty went undrafted in 2007. The Baltimore Ravens took a chance on him as an undrafted free agent, but later released him before the preseason. The Ravens later added him to the practice squad, and after a couple of injuries, Finnerty could finally say he made an official NFL roster.

Although Finnerty was only active with the Ravens for two games, being able to say he at least made it meant a lot to him.

"I never thought I would be in this situation," Finnerty said at the time. "It’s pretty crazy, but it’s fun. I’ve been hitting the books hard all week so I can be ready in case they need me."

Finnerty was later signed by the Denver Broncos in 2008, but was again released before the regular season began. However, none of that was going to discourage him, as he then joined the Cineplexx Blue Devils of Austria, leading the team to a victory in the Bodensee Cup title game. It was just the first season for Cineplexx in the CEFL.

Just like that, Finnerty went out a winner like he had been his entire life.

Finnerty was an exciting player who brought life to every team that gave him a chance. It was much more than his arm strength and running ability, it had more to do with his winning attitude and desire to succeed at the highest level that made him special.

College football has lost a great one far too soon.