Tuesday, May 14, 2013
It's not all advantages at John Curtis
By Gary Laney
RIVER RIDGE, La. -- When you read the resume of John Curtis Christian School's football program -- 25 Louisiana state championships, defending consensus national champion -- you expect to see a little more than what you find in the modest, one-story school house tucked away a couple blocks from the Mississippi River in suburban New Orleans.
Fancy stadium? Not here.
"Somebody wants to make a big donation, we'll be glad to name a stadium after them," legendary head coach J.T. Curtis said.
Multiple practice fields? Nope. Grandiose, college-like campus? Look somewhere else.
When finding the tiny school (enrollment: 368 high school students) that boasts the second winningest football coach at any level in history, you'd indeed expect more of what rivals often accuse the Patriots of having: Advantages.
Not that John Curtis lacks advantages. After all, how many coaches would love to work at a school named for a founder who is the father of the coach? How many would love to be the headmaster of the school where they coach, like Curtis, and get to surround themselves with trusted friends and family in decision-making roles?
But here's the message from people who know Curtis' program to the detractors who dismiss it for simply having all the advantages:
"Everybody has advantages and disadvantages," said Curtis, 66, who sports a lofty 520-54-6 career record. "It's about what you do with them."
Malachi Dupre is one of several John Curtis prospects that will be signing with Division I schools come national signing day.
At John Curtis, they make the most of the advantages. That much much is obvious just looking at the record and the player production -- seven Division I signees in 2013, at least that many set to go in 2014, including ESPN 150 wide receiver Malachi Dupre, 4-star linebacker Kenny Young, 4-star cornerback Terrence Alexander and highly regarded defensive back Mattrell McGraw.
As for their disadvantages? You'd never know the Patriots had any, unless you see them with your own eyes.
Curtis is making the most of what he had started long ago. He's going through a 50th anniversary this year, but only 44 of those have included football. His father opened the school in the second floor of a Baptist church, then moved it to its current location in the suburbs. The program didn't start with much but quickly learned how to get the most out of what it had.
Curtis' first football team -- in 1969 -- went 0-10, but things quickly turned around. The Patriots moved to the split-back veer offense in the mid-70s and haven't looked back since. They've rolled through stars such as Reggie Dupard in the late 70s, Michael Stonebreaker in the 80s, Jonathan Wells in the 90s and Joe McKnight in the 2000s.
How has a tiny parochial school been so consistently good? Let's break it down, sticking to the theme of advantages and disadvantages:
Equal treatment: At the foundation of Curtis' ability to get the most out of its players is a simple rule Curtis has always followed. Every player gets treated the same.
"Myself, I've always been pretty good," Dupre said. "But I get treated exactly the same at practice as everybody else. That's the thing people understand about John Curtis. That's why we have so many players who don't seem like much at the beginning, but they improve and when they play, they're ready."
Doing things the same: Curtis has run the split-back veer for 38 years now and few are able to stop it.
"Here's the thing about stopping Curtis," one rival coach said. "They've been running the veer to perfection since the 70s and when you play them, you've got one week to figure out how to stop it."
Curtis also enjoys being a K-12 school (the lower school is located just down the street from the high school), allowing it to build continuity in its players' experience; not only has the school been running the same offense for generations, the players learn the offense at a young age.
No stadium: More than perhaps any other southern city, greater New Orleans has very little room to sprawl outwards. Although hardly a huge metro area, the amount of water surrounding it gives it a decidedly urban feel without the room for ever-growing sprawl. That leaves many schools like Curtis with nowhere to expand.
John Curtis scrambles for one of Jefferson Parish' few stadiums to play home games. The nearest stadium -- Jefferson Playground -- barely has enough seating for junior high games.
"We just tell our kids we play road games," Curtis said. "We load busses for every game, even home games.
Modest campus: While the northshore of New Orleans and many of the state's growth areas get updated facilities, the same issue that keeps Curtis from getting a stadium keeps it from getting fancy facilities: There's little space to build.
"And we have other priorities," Curtis said.
Not that people will believe that.
Other schools that don't enjoy Curtis often dismiss it as John Curtis being an entirely different entity. That feeling is so strong, Louisiana's high school association is going through a football split this fall that separates public schools from "select" schools such as Curtis in the post-season.
J.T. Curtis is, of course, against the split. But will it put his program at a disadvantage?
Doesn't matter to the head coach. After all, he's built his program on making the most of what you have, not on getting caught up in what might be lacking.