Kory Curtis isn’t the type to cuss. His grandfather is a preacher. His family raised him through the church.
But there comes a point in time when everyone needs to get a little mean.
And for Curtis, a 6-foot-4, 227-pound quarterback for Island Coast who attends Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings and leads his team through prayer before Friday night games, that moment came Monday when he felt a teammate was wronged.
Long story short, Curtis’ teammate, Marlon Gaymon, was pulled down with a horse-collar tackle in practice. The cornerback wasn’t happy about getting beat on the play. Curtis wasn’t amused by his teammate’s decision to pull down his star receiver in the worst way possible.
What happened next is something you won’t see often of him. He volleyed three or four unprintable words in the direction of the accused.
“I went up to him and got a little heated,” Curtis said, “because you don’t cheap shot someone, especially Marlon. He’s our guy. He’s a game changer.”
While that interaction probably happens every day on high school football fields, to me it represented a bit more on the leadership scale.
You need that kind of fire out of your quarterback. Sometimes you need to take action to expect change, even if it’s as subtle as beefing with a teammate about a tackle.
“This is how I am,” Curtis said. “If I get on your butt and I’m wrong, I’ll tell you I’m sorry. But if I’m not wrong I’ll tell you, ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’”
Why is this important?
For a lot of reasons, actually. Island Coast had its worst season in school history last year, winning just two games. And more than ever, the Gators need leaders.
Curtis, the quarterback with Division I interest, isn’t coming off a spectacular year, either. He had a down season, regressing in passing yards (1,233), passing completion percentage (46 percent), interceptions (7) and touchdowns (8).
It could have shaken him. It would have for most players.
But never in that time, he said, did he lose confidence. Every Friday night, he would meet with his teammates after school at FCA meetings, read Bible scriptures and sing the Word. He would pray with his team before they hit the field.
“Toward the end of the year, every single person on the football team was kneeling and praying,” Curtis said. “That was a big thing, because that was bigger than football.”
When it came down to it, a lot of those statistics were smoke and mirrors, too.
Island Coast was young, it was decimated by transfers, and it didn’t have the chemistry on the offensive line that it does today. The Gators were also going through a coaching transition, moving from their fourth coach in a little over a few months to John Schwochow.
That’s right. For a short time, Island Coast had four coaches running the team in a matter of a few months. There was Wayne Blair. Then Rashad West. There were interim tags on Greg Coleman and then Joe Bowen. Then came Schwochow in June.
Players bolted to other programs. Schwochow was left to pick up the pieces. He started with a few upperclassmen, including Curtis.
“He’s really an important piece to our team,” Schwochow said. “As Kory goes, our offense will go.”
Curtis could have said his junior season was a fluke. He could have looked at his numbers his sophomore season, when he passed for 1,734 yards and 22 touchdowns, and said, ‘This is what I can do given the right guys around me.’
But that’s also not the type of player he is. Over the summer he made visits to campuses at the University of Wyoming, Colorado, Colorado State and Southern California. He took part in multiple camps, including a huge mega-camp at Norco High in California.
Quarterback coaches told him his arm slot was too low and he was releasing near his height at 6-foot-4. They told him to work on getting rid of the ball faster, on pushing his release higher. They told him to get quicker and to work on his consistency.
When he got home, he began passing every day with his father, Mike, a former quarterback, inside the gym at Southwest Florida Christian Academy. Mike stood a few feet away from his son and held a bucket. Curtis worked on touch passes, on his release angles. He went to the weight room and lost 10 pounds. He improved his 40 time.
“It’s something I was told I needed to work on, so we worked on it,” Curtis said.
What drove him weren’t just the doubters of Island Coast football. He would picture the players he would outwork at camps, the ones who had scholarship offers, and he would use it as motivation.
Despite top-level size, great physical gifts and good film, Curtis still has yet to land a Division I offer. He’s spoken to Western Kentucky, Louisville and Temple, but he knows he can’t rely on interest alone. It’s why he continues to work on the little things.
“I don’t think as a player you can ever say you’re there,” he said. “You can always get better in every aspect of your game. I know that’s cliché to say but it really is true, though. Obviously I don’t have an offer yet, so there are things coaches feel are wrong with me.”
“But what can you do?” he added. “They like what they like.”
So in the meantime, Curtis just focuses on the things he can control. He places his attention on Island Coast football, on getting the Gators back to the state playoffs.
If he has to get a little mean sometimes to emphasize the point, well then, that’s what he’ll do.