Curtis Emerging Quickly
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
It wasn't Jose Fuentes' fault that he didn't know who Kevin Curtis was when Curtis' sister mentioned to the Utah State quarterback that her brother was his teammate.
Sure, it might be out of the ordinary for a quarterback to be unfamiliar with a teammate, particularly a teammate playing a position (wide receiver) that requires a good rapport with the quarterback.
But Fuentes' familiarity or lack thereof with Curtis wasn't much different than what Curtis has grown accustomed to for most of his life. The list of those who couldn't pick Curtis out of a lineup is probably long enough to stretch from South Jordan, Utah to, say, London.
By now, Curtis is used to the lack of recognition and he is fine with that. After all, he never gave much thought to one day playing in the NFL so his status as the Rams' third receiver is fine by him.
"I think when you play that walk-on kind of underdog role you probably do catch people off guard," Curtis said. "They might not be expecting much from you. It's not like I am trying to go out there to prove anything to anyone, but it's a matter of playing football and being a competitor. I just want to be a competitor and win. That's what I love most about playing the game."
Of course, Curtis' ability to fly under the radar is rapidly disappearing. Now in his third season in St. Louis, Curtis has embraced a larger role because of a toe injury to Isaac Bruce.
At nearly every stage of his life, Curtis has found a way to eventually earn his due recognition and this year is no different for the Rams' breakout star.
Curtis' football playing days started like any normal kid's would. His mother wouldn't let him play until he was mature enough to take the physical punishment that goes with playing the game.
It didn't take long for Curtis' Pop Warner coach to see what the undersized Curtis' biggest gift was. Curtis played quarterback in his youth football days, but not in the traditional sense of the position.
Essentially Curtis was a running back playing quarterback. He would take the snap, look for a hole and run as fast as he could until he got into the end zone. Curtis enjoyed that position well enough, but his speed would clearly be better utilized at Bingham High in a different capacity.
Curtis moved to receiver when he entered high school, but he made what little reputation he had as a defensive back, playing cornerback and free safety. Curtis estimated that he probably caught about 10 passes in his entire high school career, so the thought of moving on to college was not going to be easy.
Although Curtis had displayed some talent defensively and had speed to burn, he didn't draw much attention. It seemed to Curtis that his dream of playing Division I college football was going to fall short.
"I felt as though I didn't get a lot of opportunities in high school, but I felt like I could continue to play," Curtis said. "I didn't have any scholarship offers and nobody was interested in me. A lot of people I don't think felt I could go on and play at the next level. But that was something I really thought I could do. I felt wideout was a better position and I had more football in me, so I decided to keep playing and walk on at a junior college."
Before Curtis made his decision to go to a junior college, he exhausted all possibilities of going to a four-year school first. Those efforts were in vain, though, and Curtis finally settled on Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah.
While there was no scholarship offers for Curtis, he knew that if he could walk on and play at Snow, he would get a chance to be on the field and prove himself to a four-year school somewhere else.
Curtis spent two seasons at Snow and finally had the breakout season that he knew he was capable of. In 1997, he had 55 catches for 1,100 yards and 19 touchdowns, earning second-team All American honors for his efforts.
It was the type of breakthrough performance that Curtis had been waiting for and he was a sure thing to land at a major university to continue his career and reach his goal of playing Division I football.
But a funny thing happened on the way to college football's brightest stage.
Growing up in Utah, Curtis developed his Mormon faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While football was a major influence in Curtis' life, his devout faith was at the forefront of everything he did.
As Curtis had finally reached the cusp of everything he ever wanted in football, he decided to give it all up.
With scholarship offers to BYU, Hawaii and Eastern Washington as well as interest from Kentucky and Arizona State, all Curtis had to do was sign on the dotted line of a letter of intent and he would be living his dream.
Instead, Curtis put that vision on hold in favor of going on a two-year mission trip to London.
"It was a tough decision for me," Curtis said. "My dream was always to play Division I college football and after a couple years at junior college I had some scholarship offers and I was an All American so I had some attention. When a team is interested in a Junior College (JC) guy, they want you to come in and play right away. That's why you go after a JC guy so it was bad timing in that regard. When I decided to go on the mission, those schools weren't willing to offer a scholarship for two years down the road. That's what made it tough because those scholarships disappeared and coming off the mission, it meant I was walking on again. It took a lot of thought. It was just something I wanted to do and felt like I should do."
So, Curtis went. He packed up one suitcase of clothes and other necessities and headed to London for two years. For those two years, Curtis became unplugged from what was going on in the world.
Curtis woke up every morning around 9 and returned to his living quarters around 9:30 at night. The work was all service work. Some of it involved spreading the word of his faith to those willing to listen, but more often than not Curtis would go around simply looking for something good to do in the community whether it was building a playground or something else to improve the city.
At first, Curtis had football withdrawals, wondering what was going on in the United States. Thoughts of football consumed him for the better part of the first four or five months of his stay, but eventually they disappeared.
In the back of his mind, Curtis knew he wanted to play football again, but he was unable to practice or work out while in London because of the long days. Sure he would squeeze in some push ups or sit ups in the mornings, but there was no weight lifting to be done and Curtis promptly lost about 15 pounds, most of it muscle.
"At first I brought a football with me and had it on my bed," Curtis said. "I had some withdrawals. That first four or five months, football was on my mind and I was pretty homesick. After time goes on and you get into what you are doing, I know the rest of the mission it (football) was at the back of my mind."
It would be easy to criticize Curtis' decision to leave the game he loved to go away for two seasons, leaving his long coveted scholarship offers on the table. And while he probably wouldn't gain much physically from going on the mission, what he gained mentally trumped any of that.
"You learn a ton," Curtis said. "It was the toughest decision to make. You go across the world, not knowing a single person. I learned a lot about myself. You take everything you know and realize you don't know that much. It's a huge, humbling experience and it humbled me in a way that I can't put into words.
"Physically, I got out of shape, I lost weight and got fatter, if that's possible to lose weight and get fatter. In other ways, mentally it made me a stronger person and matured me. Every day was a mental battle and to get up and do what I was doing was tough. In that way, it really helped me. I come home and over time I can get back in shape, but some of the things I learned on the mission I couldn't have learned without going."
When Curtis made his journey home after the mission, he stopped in St. Louis for a brief layover. As Curtis strolled through the Lambert Airport, it became painfully clear to him just how disconnected he was from what was going on in the United States.
Walking past a gift shop, Curtis noticed highlights of the 1999 Super Bowl on the televisions. Curtis was stunned when he realized that the Rams were the team that won that Super Bowl, making him question exactly how long he was away.
"I was like, 'Wow, how long was I gone?" Curtis said. "When I left they weren't really a team to beat so you definitely do get removed."
After returning to Utah, Curtis immediately began to weigh his options about how to get back into football. His father had called a number of schools, gauging interest in his son.
The schools that had showed plenty of interest in Curtis before now wanted nothing to do with him. BYU told him to enroll in a community college and play in a city flag football league.
Curtis was well aware that he would have to walk on and probably redshirt, but he had no designs on proving himself all over again in some flag football league. Taking into account financial concerns, Curtis searched for a school in the state that would give him a chance.
That school was Utah State, located in Logan, Utah. Curtis redshirted immediately and was once again the invisible man. Curtis' sister was friends with Fuentes, who was the team's starting quarterback when Curtis enrolled in 2000.
But when she mentioned to Fuentes that her brother was also on the team, Fuentes refused to believe it.
"I went out there and I came back the next day and told her there was nobody on the team with that name," Fuentes said. "I said maybe he was mistaken or he might have told you something, but I don't know who he is."
It was easy to overlook Curtis, who was playing scout team receiver and attempting to make an impression on the coaches. That impression was made in stunning fashion in the spring of 2001.
After running a blazing 40-yard dash, the entire Utah State team and coaching staff took notice of the special speed that Curtis possesses. Curtis estimates that he runs in the 4.3s on a consistent basis, mixing in something in the upper 4.2s on occasion. In other words, Curtis is scary fast.
Of course, even as Fuentes and the rest of the Aggies got to see up close the type of world-class speed Curtis has, that belief just didn