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Derek Curry: Setting an example

Matt Lozar | Friday, November 12, 2004

Do you.

Two words, five letters, a life motto for Derek Curry.

For one of Notre Dame’s fifth-year seniors, to ‘do you’ is about more than just playing football.

When he’s not on the practice field, watching film or hitting opposing players, Curry is out in the community spreading that message.

“It’s basically be yourself. Everybody has individual gifts and everybody is special and unique,” the starting outside linebacker said. “Don’t try to play like you see me on TV, don’t play like NFL players play, play the way you play.

“You be the person you are, in the end, the only thing you can be is happy because you are being true to yourself.”

That’s why Curry is at Notre Dame.

Foundation for life

Growing up in a Christian family in Sealy, Texas, Curry went to Shepherd’s Way Church. During his senior year of high school, the message preached each week began sinking in.

“When I became a senior in high school, I started to realize God gave me these gifts,” Curry said. “I didn’t give them to myself, my parents didn’t give them to me, but God has given me this ability. The foundation came there.”

Coming from the high school football-loving state of Texas, Curry had a lot of options to continue his education in college. As an honorable mention USA Today All-American, three-sport star and one of the top 100 players in three separate Texas newspapers, many letters filled his mailbox.

When he had to sign on that dotted line, there was only one choice.

“God really led me to Notre Dame more than anything else. I had a lot of options as to where I could go, but I didn’t think it was about me,” Curry said. “The ability God gave me to play this game I wanted to just glorify him in every way I could, and I felt like when I came here he was really telling me this was the place, this is where I want you to be, and so I wanted to just be okay, this is what you want me to do, and let’s go do it together.”

Curry didn’t want to leave and never look back when he left Sealy High School for South Bend. Attending the same high school as NFL running back Eric Dickerson and living 200 yards from Dickerson’s mother, Curry learned something from the future Hall of Famer he never wanted to let happen again.

Dickerson never came back to Sealy to talk with the young kids and provide them with inspiration to achieve their dreams.

“The main reason I do stuff like that is because I was in a position at my life that no one really came back,” Curry said. “I never wanted to put anyone else in that situation. I know what it’s like to be there and know someone from where you’re from or the area near you not to come back and tell you that you can make it, do the things you want to do in your heart and fulfill the dreams you have, and I try to tell people that.

While Curry only gets back to his hometown maybe once or twice a year right now because of commitments to the football team, when he does go back, he doesn’t make the mistake he feels Dickerson did.

“Every time I do go home I try to spend time at the middle school, junior high or athletic department,” Curry said. “I try to hang around some kids and let them talk to me. I’m an open guy.

“Yeah, I went to Notre Dame, but I’m just like anybody else. I’m from the same side of town as most of those guys, the same city. So I try to leave that option open that if they want to learn anything about the college level, my life in general or anything.”

Weathering the storm

Curry’s been a leader his entire life, something he attributes to God putting him in the right situations and environments.

Throughout high school where he was a two-time captain in football and three-time captain in basketball and baseball to being in the huddle and in the locker room during his fifth-year, Curry’s never been shy about sharing his opinions.

“It’s just a challenge I was willing to accept. I feel everyone is a leader in their own individual way, but mine is just more vocal, maybe too vocal at times,” Curry said. “It’s just something that carried over, and my personality is just to be vocal and step up for myself and the things I really believe in.

“I really believe in this team, and that’s one of the reasons I step up and speak about this team because I really care and believe we can be a great team.”

When the program needed leaders the most, Curry was there.

Former coach Bob Davie was fired in December 2001 and five days later, his replacement, George O’Leary had to resign. The coach and staff that recruited Curry to South Bend was gone after his first two seasons in an Irish uniform. The majority of his playing career would be spent underneath a new coaching staff.

Curry understood people have to make career moves and things happen because coaching in big-time college football is basically like a business. For a leader like Curry, it was time to put faith in Irish coach Tyrone Willingham and the rest of his staff – however blind that faith could be.

“As a leader on the team I had to step up and basically jump on board,” Curry said. “The thing about a leader, whenever change is made in the program or within the organization, you have to step up, go with the flow and help with the transition so that was my role.”

Going with the flow included having the leaders like Curry help with the change brought in by Willingham – a changed attitude, atmosphere and perspective. It started from the day Willingham showed up at the first team meeting with the Powerpoint slide presentation ending with the word “WIN.” All of that change Curry feels led to the 8-0 start during the Return to Glory of 2002 and a changed outlook in the program ever since.

“[I had to] stay positive, and just say, you know what these guys have something really good to offer and are good coaches. We are going to go with this and give it all we got,” Curry said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we had such a good season that first year because people bought in and really tried to buy in to what the coaches wanted us to go.”

Following his own message

Along with the other seniors playing their last game in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it’s the last time Curry will run out of the tunnel.

It’s something he’s been thinking about for awhile.

I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Curry said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out and how I handle the last pep rally and all this.

“I think the one thing I will be is excited. Not because it’s the last game, but because I have the opportunity to play another game in our Stadium. Because when it’s all said and done, I want to come out with the victory.”

As the end to his Notre Dame playing career nears, the question looms about what Curry will do with his future. An obvious option is the NFL, but he’s not ready to commit to that just yet.

“If I get the opportunity, that’s great,” the management information systems and theology double major said. “If I don’t, that’s fine to.”

If that opportunity doesn’t arise, Curry knows there’s something else.

“I want to be a youth pastor at some point because that was the time in my life when I really got a foundation so when I went to college, I was able to stay the person I am and I don’t sway to anyone else or who this person is or what I see on TV,” he said. “I want to stay true to myself.”

Staying true to himself – doing that will allow Curry to follow his own message.

One wouldn’t expect anything less.