WINCHESTER — Handley’s Kevin Curry certainly was happy to be continuing his football career at Division II Concord University next fall.
Then his fortunes changed thanks to a phone call from a man he admits he’s only spoken to a couple of times in his life.
Curry, aided by that well-placed call from Winchester Education Foundation executive director and Judges supporter Russ Potts, is now going to live his dream of playing Division I college football. Curry, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver, signed his national letter of intent to attend Football Championship Subdivision power James Madison before a crowd of of family, classmates and coaches on Wednesday morning in the commons area in front of the Patsy Cline Theatre.
Curry was one of 13 commits, including the only wide receiver, announced in the Dukes’ recruiting classes from December and February. He will start on a partial scholarship.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Curry, whose spectacular season as a wide receiver and defensive back helped Handley go 5-5 last fall.
“It was very wild,” Curry said of the recruiting process. “I was committed to D-II and I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to go D-I, but that’s my dream to go D-I. JMU came in right up the road and I had to take it and I thank God for it. It’s the best blessing that’s happened to me so far.”
Curry was prepared to head to Concord, but Potts, who was involved many years in major college athletics, was keeping tabs with Curry’s mother Stephanie Washington on how the recruiting was going.
Potts, who watched much of Curry’s sensational senior season, said he knows how some great athletes can fall between the cracks during recruiting.
“Having almost 50 years of experience in sports that I’ve seen many times, often times you will see a young student-athlete be ignored by the college recruiters because they didn’t have a championship or contending team,” Potts said. “And it isn’t as though he had a stellar sophomore or junior year. He just had a breakout year in his senior year. In college recruiting, so many of those kids are looked at as sophomores and juniors. Here he came like a lightning bolt out of the blue.
“When I watched the games, I truly felt that he was one of the greatest receivers and defensive backs in Handley history. … He’s a big play guy, too. The bigger the crisis that he has to pull his team out of, the better he plays.”
So Potts, who runs his production company in Winchester, began to work the phones. One of his first calls was to Cignetti, who was named JMU’s new head coach after Mike Houston left in December for East Carolina.
Potts knew Curt Cignetti’s father Frank, who coached at West Virginia and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He also had an old friend who coached with Frank Cignetti at IUP.
“I called [Curt],” Potts said. “And much credit to Coach Cignetti, he called me right back. I told Coach Cignetti, ‘Look, [former Handley and William & Mary quarterback] Lang Campbell is a young man we are very proud of here. He won the Walter Payton Award. Lang Campbell told me that this kid is the greatest receiver in Handley history. He can definitely play at your level.’
“What impressed me about Coach Cignetti is the next day [wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator] Mike Shanahan called [Curry].”
Cignetti said on Wednesday that Curry is talented and versatile.
“He could I think excel on both sides of the ball,” Cignetti said during his Signing Day news conference. “He’ll start out at wide receiver.”
Curry said getting the offer from the Dukes meant much to him and hopes it means something to others at Handley.
“I feel like I’ve worked pretty hard to get to this point,” Curry said. “It sets a trend for other kids in this school to go D-I or go bigger. That’s a big thing, too. I want to see more people from this school go to D-I.”
Curry will major in sports management at JMU.
“It’s the perfect place for me because my family and people I know can come to watch me play,” he said. “It comes at a perfect time. I’m glad I get to go to JMU.”
Like Potts, Handley football coach Dan Jones thought Curry could play at the Division I level. Jones, who completed his first season leading the Judges program, said the coaching change at JMU likely benefited Curry. Cignetti comes from an offensive background.
“I was wondering what was going on to be honest with you,” Jones said. “I was surprised, but those college coaches have been doing it for years. They know what they are looking for. Not only does he have to be a great athlete, he has to fit their system. Sometimes, you just don’t fit into their system.
“I think with the coaching change in Harrisonburg, it really helped out. Kevin fits better in Coach Cignetti’s system.”
Cignetti gets a receiver who turned in a spectacular senior campaign. Curry caught 60 passes for 1,031 yards and 13 touchdowns. His season started with two TDs, including a last-minute, game-winning catch and two-point conversion in a 15-14 win over Warren County.
The late-game heroics became common for Curry, despite all of the attention he received from defenses.
“I wanted to win. I had that in my heart and my team wants to win,” said Curry, who also tied for the area lead with four interceptions. “I didn’t want to let my team down. I would take it up another level at the end of games.”
“In my short life as a head coach and over my assistant years I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what play you call or matter what you do,” said Jones. “You’ve got to try to get the ball in your best player’s hands. That’s why Kevin at the end of the games was the guy that shined for us.”
Curry also excels on the basketball court for the Judges. He helped Handley reach the Class 4 title game last season. The Judges (17-2, 10-0) clinched the Class 4 Northwestern District title Tuesday.
Curry, who has incredible leaping ability, could have played that sport in college, too.
“I had a couple of schools that wanted me for basketball, but I never really talked to them because I was focused on football,” Curry said.
And why football?
“You can’t foul out in football,” Curry said with a chuckle. “I get into foul trouble. In football, I feel like I can be out on the field more. I feel like my body type is better for playing football.”
While he is looking forward to the fall, he still has some unfinished business in the present.
“I’m really excited, but I have got to finish this basketball season off right,” he said. “I want to win a state championship. That’s a good thing, too, because I have to do for my team and not be just focused on what I’m going to do in college. But, I’m really excited for college.”
Jones said Curry’s success in two sports sets an example for others to follow.
“What’s great about Kevin is that being a multi-sport athlete it shows these kids you don’t have to specialize,” Jones said. “He had two avenues he could go. … It shows once again playing a sport can help you get into college. Playing multiple sports gives you more opportunities to play in college.”
Jones added that Curry will be sorely missed, but is happy to see him get a chance that so few have.
“It’s fantastic for any kid to get an opportunity to move onto the next level and play — whether it’s Division III or Division II,” Jones said. “But it’s really special in Division I to get money and get your education paid for. He’s worked hard. He’s a great kid. He deserves it.”