PATRIOTS SEEK REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
How do you follow up being the best of the best?
For John Curtis football, that is the task in 2013. For J.T. Curtis, that is the task as the most accomplished coach in Louisiana and one of the greatest in United States prep football history.
After accumulating 25 state titles and 520 wins, the second most in the history of prep football in this country, Curtis has proven that he and his football program are the best in Louisiana and one of the best nationally. When he set out on the journey of starting a football program for his father in 1969, Curtis did not foresee the kind of success the Patriots have had.
"My wife and I spoke about this a short time ago," Curtis said. "This is not what we planned or what we could have envisioned. It was something we worked at. The goal was to be the best we could be. It was not part of the overall scheme to win 25 state championships and a national championship. Our mission is not about winning championships but winning people into a closer relationship with the Lord. That was the vision and that is why we are here."
The Patriots were crowned national champions by six different entities in 2012. Curtis marched through its opponents like gravy through rice, smothering, even drowning opponents in a sea of size, speed and superb coaching.
Curtis went 14-0, pitching seven shutouts. The closest anyone came to beating the Patriots was a week one, hastily put together contest at St. Paul's, which the Patriots won 26-7 after trailing 7-6 at halftime. The Patriots won their 14 games by an average of 44 points per game and in many games, they were playing reserves for two or three quarters. Curtis beat Evangel 35-13 to win the 2A state title and the national honors followed in quick fashion.
"Being named national champion was a tremendous honor," Curtis said. "As time progresses, you understand the depth of the accomplishment. It really serves to compliment those players who was a part of this. When you have a ranking of that nature, two things are prevalent--playing well and having outstanding players. We have had to put it behind us and look straight ahead at an extreme challenge with very tough opponents."
The opposition in 2013 is much steeper. The Patriots elected to play up one classification to 3A, prior to the vote to split select and non-select schools. Following the vote to split, Curtis will now compete with 3A and 4A schools in Division III of the select competition.
The challenges awaiting Curtis include a pair of games with out-of-state powers in Bergen Catholic (NJ) and St. Thomas Aquinas (FL), along with a pair games against a pair of in-state powers who have the talent to match the Patriots. Then, there is traditional rival St. Charles Catholic, a model of consistency and the 2011 state champion in 3A.
Another challenging aspect of the Curtis schedule is playing just two home games at Muss Bertolino Stadium.
Curtis graduated several outstanding players from its national championship squad, including seven Division I signees. Replacing running backs Sherman Badie (Tulane) and Tevin Horton (ULM), defensive backs Brandon Porter (San Diego State) and Richard Allen (Tulane), linebackers Duke Riley (LSU) and Eric Thomas (Tulane) and offensive lineman Brandon Godfrey (Tulane) will not be easy.
The Patriots return nine starters, including four on offense and five on defense. The good news is that Curtis has six returning players who have many significant Division I offers. The cupboard is far from bare.
Wide receiver Malachi Dupre has offers from nearly every football power in the country. The 6-foot-four, 192-pound Dupre is an outstanding basketball player as well, with a 40-inch vertical jump. He runs consistently in the 4.55 range. Henry Smith (6'2, 180) and junior Jacob Bordelon (6'1, 180) provide two more very athletic, big targets in the passing game.
"Malachi is an excellent blocker, a big bodied kid, very strong physically," Curtis said. "He should enter the season at about 200 pounds. He can really hold blocks which helps our run game. In the passing game, his big play ability is perhaps the best we have ever had with his body control and leaping ability. He is very tough to handle one-on-one. We will try to take advantage of it if opponents to not double cover him."
The Patriots are strong at running back as well, led by seniors Raekwon James (5'9, 185) and George Moreira (5'10, 185). James has an offer from Northern Colorado and attended camp at Alabama. Moreira recently received an offer from Tulane and has offers from six other schools, including Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss. Juniors Myles Washington and Dontae Jones provide quality depth. Junior tight end Hunter Thibodeaux (6'1, 245) is a returning starter as well.
"We have quality depth at running back," Curtis said. "We will play at least five backs and we will move them around quite a bit this year, taking advantage of the depth we have there. We'll get James in a position as a receiver at times to utilize his skills. We want to keep them as fresh as possible so they are still strong in the fourth quarter. That is a staple of our program."
While Patrick Morton graduated, the Patriots have what amounts to a returning starter at quarterback in junior Abby Touzet (6'2, 230). When Morton was out with a knee injury in 2011, Touzet stepped in and started, leading Curtis to the 2A state championship. With Morton back healthy in 2012, Touzet played extensively in a reserve role.
"We have a lot of confidence in Abby," Curtis said. "He is maturing physically, his body is catching up with him. He has a strong arm and can really throw the football. He is very calm under pressure and does not get rattled. That is a primary quality you want in a quarterback. He should handle the offense well."
Up front, the Patriots feature a talented sophomore in Willie Allen (6'5, 275), who has outstanding ability and upside.
Defensively, the Patriots have five starters returning. Linebacker Kenny Young (6'2, 220) is a blue-chip player, like Dupre, who has offers from virtually every national Division I power. Young is a striker who runs very well (4.54 forty). Junior Mike Corcoran (6'1, 210) returns as well at linebacker and will be outstanding. Senior Hezekiah White (5'10, 205) is a solid tackler as well. White's brother, John, played for Curtis before playing at Southern University. Sophomore Mike Divinity (6'3, 200) can play virtually anywhere and is one of the best athletes on the squad. He will play outside linebacker this year after being ineligible last season. Sophomore Nathaniel Evans is another player to watch.
"Young's athleticism separates him from most others," Curtis said. "What we will need from him is strong leadership as we will have some young players who have to mature on defense. He must keep calm and help get us in the right spots. He is showing that to us already."
Up front, seniors Isaiah Williams (6'0, 250) and Sean Eppinnette (6'1, 265) have good size and quickness. Sophomores Devin Savwoir (6'1, 285) and Malik Lecoq (6'1, 225) are blessed with outstanding athleticism and should blossom.
The strength of the defense is the secondary.
Senior cornerback Terrence Alexander (5'10, 178, 4.4 forty) and senior strong safety Mattrell McGraw (6'0, 180, 4.5 forty), along with junior safety Hunter Dale (6'0 175) have a slew of scholarship offers. Senior Prine Lewis (5'9, 175)will start opposite Alexander at cornerback. Junior A.J. Huff (6'1, 185) continues to improve and has a very bright future while sophomore Caleb Anderson is a player to watch as well.
"I think our secondary must do a great job and carry the defense until we are able to mature up front," Curtis said. "Those guys are veteran players who have played in big games and are capable of making big plays. We feel very comfortable with this group. The way teams throw the ball today, you have to be good and have depth in the deep. The fact that they cover Dupre, Smith, Bordelon and the like really helps. Those are really good receivers."
Curtis is sound in the kicking game with returning kicker/punter Austin Linden, who is back for a third year for the Patriots.
Curtis opens the season in the Brothers In Arms doubleheader at Mandeville High School against Bergen Catholic before squaring off with St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) in week two as part of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic doubleheader which also features St. Paul's against Jesuit. St. Thomas Aquinas is ranked 16th in the country.
"The Brothers In Arms game will raise money for our nation's veterans of war who were wounded in action," Curtis said. "We are privileged to be part of the game."
The Patriots travel to Reserve to play a talented East St. John team before facing off with defending 4A state champion Edna Karr at Behrman Stadium in a week four blockbuster.
It is out of the fire and into the frying pan in week five when the Patriots take on St. Augustine and the nation's top running back in Leonard Fournette at Tad Gormley Stadium before opening district play at home against St. Charles Catholic in week six. After an open week, Curtis concludes district play with a home game against De La Salle, along with road games at Lusher and McMain.
Part of being one of the nation's elite teams is the challenge of scheduling. Most schools in-state will not play Curtis.
"The challenge in the first six games is as difficult as we have ever been through," Curtis said. "The two out-of-state opponents are quality teams. We know we will be in deep. Karr is big and fast. The same is true of St. Aug. Phil Banko will have his beat team since he has been at East St. John. Coach (Frank) Monica does a great job at St. Charles Catholic. We are looking forward to it."
There is little doubt that Curtis was the main target of principals voting to split with private schools.
"I understand that and there is not much I can do about that," Curtis said. "The people that know me and know us know that we will abide by the rules and do the very best job we can. I am not going to apologize for success. We attempt to be the very best we can be. That is the goal. I can't do anything about those who have suppositions and make assumptions. We will just do the very best we can and move on in positive fashion."
As for competing with 16 teams in its new classification and the other minimal select classes, J.T. is philosophical.
"I think they did the best with a very bad situation and I view this as a very bad situation," Curtis said. "I feel Jay Roth's comments which he expressed to your site were right on."
"I think Division III will be a strong division," Curtis added. "To see 5A have just 10 teams and just play three playoff games is so unfair. It is watered down. It waters down the quality of state titles. I find this all to be beyond comprehension."
Curtis will have just two legitimate home games at Muss Bertolino Stadium.
"We're right here in our back yard and we're not accustomed to playing in the Superdome, at Pan American, Behrman, and at Tad Gormley," Curtis said. "It will serve us well in the playoffs, having played in hostile environments."
Regardless of where Curtis plays, opponents will have to strap on their helmets in very tight fashion. The juggernaut that is John Curtis football will not slow down anytime soon.