Navy Slotback Marcus Curry Emerges as a Playmaker After Preseason Illness

Navy's Marcus Curry was sick during preseason conditioning drills and spent five days in the hospital with pneumonia and kidney problems.
Navy's Marcus Curry was sick during preseason conditioning drills and spent five days in the hospital with pneumonia and kidney problems. (By Rob Carr -- Associated Press)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One of the worst things about getting sick and missing the first two weeks of preseason practice wasn't the time that Navy sophomore Marcus Curry spent in the hospital or in his own bed, away from his teammates. No, the worst thing was probably the time he spent on the field after practice, away from his teammates.

Every day, as the rest of the Midshipmen headed to the locker room, Curry stayed behind with Joe DuPaix, Navy's slotbacks coach, and ran sprints. During Navy's second scrimmage, Curry jogged around the stadium field as the rest of his teammates played. After Navy's third scrimmage, Curry ran extra sprints in the pouring rain.

"Man, it was rough getting back in shape," Curry said. "But I guess it's starting to pay off now."

That's for sure. Through two games, Curry has emerged as a playmaker for Navy (1-1), which plays at Pittsburgh (2-0) on Saturday. He's already done something that his two talented predecessors at slotback, Shun White and Reggie Campbell, never did: record a 100-yard rushing game and a 100-yard receiving game in the same season.

In the season opener at Ohio State, Curry caught two passes, both for touchdowns, for a total of 101 yards. His 85-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter -- the third-longest pass play in program history -- was one of the most-replayed highlights of Navy's 31-27 loss. Last Saturday against Louisiana Tech, Curry carried the ball 15 times for 124 yards and a touchdown.

"I think he's starting to learn more and more of the offense," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But the kid's gifted. Smooth runner, good hands, I don't know if he's a shifty guy like Reggie, but he's a strong, strong runner."

The Midshipmen have had high hopes for Curry ever since he came to Annapolis from Carrollton, Tex., via the Naval Academy Preparatory School. White said that as soon as he saw Curry, "I knew he had the potential to be one of the best slots we've ever had here. . . . He is probably the prototype to be a slotback in this offense."

Curry is 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds, which makes him one of Navy's biggest slotbacks in recent seasons. He has the size and strength to be an excellent blocker, and the speed to break off big plays. He also has good hands; in high school, he played running back and slot receiver, and he also attended a camp for quarterbacks and receivers that was run by North Texas Coach Todd Dodge.

The player Curry is most similar to is probably Eric Roberts, who set a program record by averaging 23.3 yards per catch over his career (2002-04). The 5-10, 193-pound Roberts was the last slotback to post a 100-yard rushing and a 100-yard receiving game in the same season, doing so in 2003.

"Eric was probably a more powerful runner," Niumatalolo said. "But Marcus is faster."

Curry worked hard to be ready for this season. Because White -- who led the Midshipmen with 1,292 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns last season -- had completed his eligibility, there was a void at slotback. Curry won a starting spot during spring practice, and then spent the summer working out with White, whom he considers to be one of his closest friends.

"Ever since I've known Shun, I've seen how much muscle he has, and how he's always working hard," Curry said. "I tried to do the same this year. We worked out in the weight room, and tried to work on speed and agility and hands. We also hung out together a lot, too. We'd go to the mall or the movies, or I'd beat him up in video games."

But then Curry fell sick after going through conditioning drills on media day. He was hospitalized for five nights with what he described as pneumonia and kidney problems, along with dehydration. Once he returned to the academy, he was put on bed rest for a few more days.

Curry quickly worked his way back into shape, and the time away from football actually helped keep his legs fresh, Niumatalolo said. By the end of preseason practices, Curry had reclaimed his spot at the top of the slotback rotation. Navy's coaches were confident that Curry could run the ball; he showed in the first two games that he can block as well.

"Being a slotback in this offense, you've got to be an athlete. You got to be able to first, run the ball, and second, catch the ball," said White, who is assisting with the football team as he finishes up classes at the academy. "But the most important thing is blocking. If you don't block for the slot that's getting the ball, then we don't have a play. . . . That's the way our offense works. It's a selfless offense. You can't be selfish playing slotback. I learned that from Reggie and Zerb [Singleton], and I'm trying to pass that down to Marcus."

In the first quarter against Louisiana Tech, Curry had the key block on senior Cory Finnerty's 16-yard touchdown run. It was one of 12 knockdowns that Curry had against the Bulldogs, according to White, the most of any slotback.

Said Curry, "I was actually more proud of that than all the yards that I got."

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