UMass QB Michael Curtis prepared if called upon

  • Michael Curtis carries the ball during the annual UMass spring scrimmage. The redshirt junior quarterback could make his first career start on Saturday when the Minutemen host Charlotte at 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2018 11:01:05 PM

AMHERST — UMass fans can thank a science course for Michael Curtis being a Minuteman.

Just days before the Richardson, Texas, native was set to sign to play quarterback at Cornell in 2015, the prep school he attended as a high school senior — Deion Sanders’ Prime Prep Academy — lost its accreditation with the NCAA. Curtis, who said he hasn’t gotten a B in his life, had taken every class, except his science credit, at a local community college during his year at Prime Prep Academy.

He said his request to redo the semester of science he missed was denied, making him ineligible.

“It’s a pretty interesting turnaround thinking you’re going to go to an Ivy League school and having to go to junior college,” Curtis said.

Curtis could have pursued a degree at Duke or Texas or one of the handful of other schools to which he had been accepted and give up football. His only NCAA-sanctioned chance at playing football was at the Division II level, which only requires three years of science.

He spent a day committed to the University of Central Oklahoma, but eventually turned it down after receiving some advice from his brother.

“He said, ‘You didn’t get the academic aspect you want out of it and you didn’t get the football aspect you want out of it, why settle in both aspects, chase one of them,’” Curtis said.

Curtis ended up at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, and redshirted his freshman year behind future Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans. Curtis went on to spearhead the Cardinals to an 11-1 record in 2016, tossing for 2,311 yards and 24 touchdowns.

His most underrated skill though was his ability to execute in Trinity Valley’s RPO — run-pass option — system. As mostly a pocket passer in high school, Curtis rarely had to show off his speed, but he burned plenty of defenses playing for the Cardinals, rushing for 593 yards and five touchdowns.

“Mike’s pretty sneaky athletically,” said Brad Smiley, the former Trinity Valley coach who is now the offensive coordinator at Northwestern State. “We never realized it because he was a drop-back passer in high school, but Mike could really run. For us in our scheme, our bread and butter was the inside zone and the zone read, Mike could pull it and hurt people on it and really make big plays off it.”

Speed has become an important part of Curtis’ repertoire as a quarterback. He said he’s put a lot more focus on becoming faster and has spent a lot of time in the UMass weight room with former strength and conditioning coach Joe Connolly and current strength coach Brian Phillips.

“It was at first that I was sneaky athletic,” Curtis said. “I wasn’t super fast, but I could kind of gain a few yards here or there. Since I’ve been here, with Coach Connolly and now Coach Phillips ... especially this past offseason, my speed has increased a lot. It’s definitely a lot faster than it used to be last year, and it’s something that I’ve been trying to maintain and hold onto.”

All of the lessons Curtis has learned during his time at UMass could potentially be put to the test Saturday against Charlotte at 3:30 p.m. Injuries to redshirt senior quarterbacks Ross Comis and Andrew Ford have opened the door for Curtis to potentially get his first career start against the 49ers.

UMass coach Mark Whipple said both Comis and Ford have improved as the week has progressed, but Curtis has still taken most of the first-team reps during practice. If neither Comis nor Ford are cleared before kickoff, it’ll be Curtis’ offense to run.

Whipple said he thought the week of practice has helped the redshirt junior understand the offense and build connections with his receivers.

“Last week, he played pretty good for not having any (first-team reps),” Whipple said. “I think he’ll understand what personnel’s in the game and what they’re doing. He’s worked hard, he’s a smart guy, but there’s nothing like experience. I can just see from the way he’s throwing the ball, it’s coming out of his hand a little bit better, knowing where the guys are. He’s had a chance to throw to (receivers) Andy (Isabella) and Sadiq (Palmer) and Brennon (Dingle) and Jessie (Britt), and he hadn’t been doing that much, so those things help.”

The Minutemen were in this same situation last season when Comis and Ford were game-time decisions before UMass’ game against Maine at Fenway Park. That day, Ford was cleared to play and ended up throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Minutemen to a win.

If Curtis is the starter Saturday, his offensive coordinator at Trinity Valley, Sherard Poteete, knows Curtis will be ready.

“I don’t think the opponent will be able to throw anything at him that he won’t be prepared for,” said Poteete, who is now Trinity Valley’s head coach. “He’s a guy that prepares, he’s a guy who asks questions. Sometimes I get quarterbacks that are afraid to talk, they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to seem like they don’t know something. Mike was always a guy that wanted to know everything. He wanted to be a coach out there on the field, so he wanted to know the ifs, ands, whys or how comes. I think the more he knew, the better he played.”

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