October 27, 2011

Curtis celebrates win No. 500 with family

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

As the final seconds ticked away in the River Ridge (La.) John Curtis 49-6 victory over New Orleans (La.) Clark Thursday night, head coach J.T. Curtis was able to celebrate win No. 500 with his family.

He didn't have to have them ushered down from the bleachers or walked onto midfield from an end zone gate. In fact, he didn't have to make any of those special preparations at all.

Most everyone already was on the sideline with him.

While it's become cliché for football coaches to talk about their teams as family, it's literally the case at this small private school, where Curtis had seven members of his family on the staff when he became only the second coach in history to reach 500 victories.

"I am blessed to be surrounded by them," Curtis said. "We all still get along because we all still have similar goals. We fellowship together, many of us go to church together, it is an enjoyable life."

Leon Curtis, J.T.'s brother, has been the defensive coordinator since 1972.

Leon's two sons, Matt and Steve serve as wide receiver and linebacker coaches respectively.

Johnny Curtis, J.T's eldest son, is the outside linebacker and special teams coach, and has been for 16 years.

Jeff Curtis, J.T.'s younger son coaches quarterbacks and running backs. He has been with his father for 12 years.

Tommy Fabacher, a son-in-law, has served as the defensive back coach for 17 seasons.

Lance Rickner, the son of J.T.'s sister, Kathy, has served as the defensive line coach for seven seasons.

It was a good thing his family was there. Without them, J.T. may not even have slowed down and celebrated this accomplishment.

"Dad doesn't celebrate wins like a normal coach," Jeff said. "He wouldn't have thought anything of it because in his brain when the game ends, he is already past it. He talked to me about a junior varsity game we have on Saturday."

Thursday night in what should have been a moment to celebrate, to self congratulate, J.T. Curtis followed the path that he has taken for years.

He passed the glory to others.

"It is a milestone for sure," he said. "It has been made into a big event I suppose, but so many other people deserve the credit for this. The effort, preparation, commitment that I have been blessed to be on the receiving end of is a sort of validation to their hard work."

*******

John Curtis Christian, a small faith-based school just a handful of miles west of New Orleans was founded in 1962 by J.T.'s dad, John.

The football program started in 1969. J.T. Curtis, who will be 65 next month, is the only coach the school has ever known. And there's a pretty good reason he's never been asked to leave.

Curtis has won 90 percent of the games he has coached, going 500-54-6 in 42-plus years. The record is even more impressive when you consider this: the school went 0-10 in its first year of existence.

It has been rolling ever since.

Curtis has led the school to a state title 23 times. He has advanced to a state title game the past 16 seasons, winning 11 times.

But for all its success on the field, Curtis is more proud of his efforts off it.

"If the only thing I have done is win games," he paused, "if we were only keeping score on the field then all of this effort, money, time was not worth it.

"I hope that we were preparing good men. Preparing and developing them spiritually and morally, we did a lot of that on the football field but there is an added value to sports. It prepares you for the hard times."

The family of NFL players that Curtis has produced continues to rally around the program.

Former players Jonathan Wells and Mike Stonebreaker, among others, were on hand to celebrate the victory as well as their former coach.

Stonebreaker, a 1986 graduate of the school, was a two-time finalist for the Butkus Award at Notre Dame before being drafted by the Chicago Bears.

He said that the lessons learned at the school pushed him forward in his career and life.

[Y! Sports Radio: Dallas Jackson and David Nuno discuss the legacy of J.T. Curtis]

"He is a winner and he taught us as young men how to win," Stonebreaker said. "We were constantly reinforced positively. We did things the correct way and we won. Being rewarded with success is a powerful motivator.

"His message was consistent. It was believable because he was a good man, too."

Wells, a 1997 graduate who went on to play four years at Ohio State before being selected and playing in the NFL with the Houston Texans, said that his time at the school was the foundation for his success.

"I honestly thank God that I was able to learn from Coach J.T.," Wells said. "What people don't know about him is his attention to detail. He is who he is and that hasn't changed since 1992 when I met him and that includes how precise he is. He is more meticulous than coaches I had in college and in the pros."

Curtis' son, Jeff, has learned first hand that attention to detail.

"Dad has no ego," Jeff said. "He has always told me that if we were doing this to be self serving, we would never get out of it what we want.

"He wants to make champions for life. That is our school motto and something he lives."

*******

J.T. Curtis is a member of three Halls of Fame: The Louisiana College Hall of Fame, The Louisiana High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He has been named the Louisiana Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year nine times.

He also is an ordained minister and preaches at the Coliseum Place Baptist Church.

His message: "God's Game Plan."

Curtis calls coaching and sharing his faith his true calling. He said that it keeps him motivated as a man and a coach.

"Being able to help motivate and mold people come with a lot of pressure," Curtis said. "It is something I enjoy the responsibility of.

"You can not tell people to do the right things and then not follow on that same path."

Especially, he said, with high school kids.

"Young people will see through you if you are phony," Curtis said. "If you want to have them do the right thing on the field and in life, you can't also show them how to line up illegally. They will start looking for the shortcuts everywhere and that will come back to you."

Stonebreaker credits his former high school coach for his quick successes in college.

"I was so fundamentally sound when I got to college," he said. "It helped accelerate my playing time because the coaches knew I was going to be in the right place at the right time. I was starting by the middle of my freshman year. That didn't happen that often at a place like Notre Dame and it wouldn't have happened if I was slipping into bad habits and being out of position. I didn't have those habits to fall into because of Coach Curtis."

As he turns from the present to the future, Curtis does not know how long he plans to be on the sidelines, saying that it isn't up to him.

"I really have put it in God's hands," he said. "I never started this with a number, 300, 400, 500, whatever. So long as I am healthy and happy and having a positive impact on the boys I am coaching, then I will keep it up."

While not making an official timeline, Curtis doesn't think he will be still coaching as long as all-time wins leader John McKissack.

McKissack, in his 60th season, is still going strong at Summerville (S.C.) High, where he'll take a 592-141-13 record into Friday night's game with Beaufort.

"I am not sure I will be doing it until I am 85 like John has," Curtis said.

His son is not so sure.

"Don't let him fool you," he said. "That isn't out of the realm of possibility. There is no reason right now to think it will change. Dad is still a young man."

If Curtis does continue to coach, 600 - or even 700 - wins is a possibility.

Not that Curtis will ever mention it himself. He'll be too busy worrying about the next game he has to coach, the next kid he has to mentor.

After all, at Curtis it truly is family.




 

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