Judge Culpepper grew up around football.
The Nittany Lions’ redshirt sophomore defensive tackle’s father, Brad Culpepper, played nine years in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears.
“Honestly, I look at him, and I just aspire to be like him,” Judge Culpepper said. “He’s an incredibly hard worker, and he puts 100% effort in everything he’s invested in. Growing up and watching that … he’s kind of set the path for me and the path that I want to follow.”
As a redshirt freshman last season, Culpepper logged playing time in 13 games, primarily on special teams. He recorded an assisted tackle against Buffalo and was credited with half a sack in Penn State’s regular-season finale against Rutgers. Culpepper was named an Academic All-Big Ten player after the season.
Penn State recruited Culpepper from H.B. Plant High, where throughout his four-year prep career he played tight end and quarterback in addition to defensive end.
As a senior, Culpepper earned a four-star designation from Rivals, and he was listed as the No. 24 strong-side defensive end and the No. 15 tight end by ESPN. He’s since bulked up his 6-foot-4 frame to 294 pounds to assist with his transition to the interior of the defensive line.
Penn State in February hired defensive line coach John Scott Jr. to replace Sean Spencer after Spencer accepted the same position with the New York Giants. Although Scott didn’t have a traditional spring practice period and Blue-White scrimmage to evaluate Culpepper, Scott said he liked what he observed from the defensive lineman during the winter conditioning and workout period.
“One of the guys I really enjoyed watching in the winter conditioning was Judge Culpepper,” Scott said. “He’s another physical, high-motor guy.”
During the three-month quarantine period away from his teammates and coaches, the younger Culpepper worked with his father to stay sharp and maintain his gridiron skills. Brad Culpepper was a defensive lineman during his time as a professional athlete.
“He’s been really instrumental,” Judge Culpepper said. “We used to go to the field all the time and work bags, work hand things and just talk through stuff. He’s told me all kinds of stories about when he was playing and what he did, what his coaches taught him and how much defensive line play has changed.”
Culpepper’s mother, Monica, appeared on season 24 of CBS’ Survivor: One World. Together, Monica and Brad appeared on season 27 of the show, Survivor: Blood vs. Water, and season 34, Survivor: Game Changers. Monica Culpepper finished as the show’s runner-up during season 27, while Brad placed 15th. Brad finished as runner-up in season 34.
“My mom, she’s just a badass,” Judge Culpepper said. “People look at her and they see, oh, NFL wife, like she’s probably prissy and not tough. But my mom, she might be tougher than my dad, and that says a lot because he played in the NFL for nine years. My parents are just really badass individuals, and I strive every day to try and put that in my life.”