Long drive . . . outta here!

That was the story for then-junior Ryan McCullough - and Harry Kalas has granted permission to utter his signature call - with regard to North Catholic High shortly after the end of the 2005 football season.

Actually, the drive to North from his home in Cherry Hill, N.J., is rather short, but using public transportation or scrambling for rides had become quite the burden, so McCullough transferred back to Cherry Hill West, where he'd spent his freshman year.

This Saturday, at 7 p.m. at Northeast High, the 6-3, 185-pound wideout will participate in the 33rd annual Daily News-Eagles City All-Star Football Game.

How? The kid has drive.

Though he recently crashed it (he was unhurt, thank goodness), McCullough's ticket back to North for senior year was a 1997 Chrysler LHS, which he purchased for $3,000.

"I had a lot of friends at North, and I really wanted to go back," McCullough said. "I have a job cleaning and detailing cars at a place [JWP Auto Sales in Maple Shade, N.J.] that's owned by my buddy's father. Whenever possible, I was over there working, trying to make sure I could get a car.

"We cashed in some savings bonds from when I was little, and my parents [Shawn, Tracy] helped out, and the rest came from the money I saved from the job. My parents have been helping me with the gas money."

About his current situation, he added: "It would have cost about $1,000 to fix the Chrysler. Makes more sense just to get a different car, which I'm going to do soon. My brother, Shawn, is just back from college. I'm using his car for now."

Once he finishes representing the Non-Public squad, which holds a 17-14-1 series edge, with wins in four of the last five games, Ryan will begin preparations for his career at Albright.

Where he'll play is undecided. Both the offensive and defensive coordinators (for strong safety/outside linebacker) think he'd be a good fit, and the plan is to try him on both sides of the ball in training camp.

His preference?

"Probably defense," he said. "I really like being physical."

Even on offense. Unlike many wideouts, McCullough does not shy away from contact. If he's not catching a pass, the defenders in his area had better be prepared to catch some full-body hell.

McCullough played fullback in his youth-football days and the mentality needed for that position never vanished once he shifted to wideout. And a late, out-of-nowhere shift it was.

A week before the '05 North-Frankford Thanksgiving game, a starter became unavailable, and coach Chalie Szydlik, mindful that McCullough had decent speed and would make an inviting target, considering his height, changed his offensive duties from backup quarterback (he'd played extensively in the previous game, and even had thrown for two touchdowns) to starting wideout.

"I was pretty nervous, playing a brand-new position in our rivalry game," Ryan said. "Once it started, that went away."

The result: four catches for 55 yards and a TD in a 12-0 win, North's first of the season after 11 consecutive setbacks.

Once McCullough completed his transfer from Cherry Hill West to North, he and his teammates began to dream big.

"All we did all summer was talk about how good a team we were going to be," he said.

Sept. 3. Wildwood, N.J. Neumann-Goretti 16, North 12.

"It was like, 'Oh, man, I hope we don't have the same kinds of seasons we had before,' " McCullough said.

Hope granted. The Falcons went 8-5 overall for their first winning campaign since 1987 and notched a postseason win for the first time since '56. McCullough contributed 22 catches for 380 yards and three TDs; he earned coaches' second-team All-Catholic honors on both sides of the ball.

In this game, he will be joined by schoolmates Daryl Robinson, Tom Hannan, Anthony DeLuca and Rich Cruz. Also, Szydlik is the head coach, and two of his assistants, son CJ and Ryan Haigh, are on the staff.

"This has been such a great year," McCullough said. "After we lost to Neumann-Goretti, it took time to build things back up. There were barely any fans for our next game at Conwell-Egan. We got things rolling and the whole school, and all the graduates, started getting excited. You'd walk through the halls and everybody would know you. It was good to be a part of it."

And now, there's one last high school game.

"From the time you start playing high school ball, this is the game you dream about," he said. "You watch the older guys play and you keep saying, 'I want to get to that level.' "

It took drive. In Ryan McCullough's case, it also took a car. *