METAIRIE — Patrick Morton’s desire to play football at John Curtis Christian dates to the third grade.
That’s about the time his father introduced him to the prep powerhouse, the beginning of a journey, which later transformed him from a skinny kid walking the school hallways, idolizing his high school heroes, to his senior season that ended this month with the school’s first national championship.
“All the classes before us, we looked up to,” Morton said. “They showed us what we need to do to be a champion.”
After accomplishing so much — 25 state championships in its 50 years of existence as the “Little School That Could And Does” — the 2012 edition found a way to accomplish even more by successfully defending its Class 2A title, posting its 13th perfect season and finishing with a No. 1 ranking in the final USA Today, PrepNation, MaxPreps, Rivals and Fox Sports national polls.
Outside of the state, John Curtis is no longer a hidden gem because it plays in a smaller classification.
The school was on holiday break when the announcements were made this week, but there’s surely a pizza party in the works.
“All of the guys who have ever played at Curtis are sharing in the victory; the same as the players and the coaches are because we’re all a part of it,” said former Patriots quarterback Danny Wimprine, a four-time state champion (1996-99). “The ghosts of Curtis’ past are still living through those guys today.”
Even in Louisiana, where for the past four years, the state has sent the most talent per capita to the NFL, how can one school be so successful?
What’s the secret?
If there is a secret to John Curtis’ uncharted success, it’s the coaching staff. J.T. Curtis, the only head coach the school has known, has 520 wins, second all-time nationally. His older brother, Leon, has been a part of the coaching staff since 1971 and Mike Robertson since 1976. Most of the staff is former players, many of whom played college football before returning to the River Ridge campus. They excel at teaching the same philosophies and pushing themselves as hard as they push players, always ready to learn the latest coaching techniques.
Maybe it’s the system. They prepare for District 9-2A opponents previously defeated 64-0 as if the Patriots were on the losing end. No player, regardless of talent, regardless of grade level, is featured. Running backs have a better chance of rushing five times than 25, allowing teammates an opportunity to perform on Friday nights much earlier in their careers than their peers at other schools. That’s why when a reporter received season statistics for 2006 Parade All-American candidate Joe McKnight, they called back, asking a second time.
You got ’em. Rushing yards: 709. Receiving yards: 735.
J.T. Curtis told him to look at a more important statistic: Yards per carry/catch (15.7 rushing, 30.6 receiving). McKnight made the national all-star team. He now plays for the New York Jets.
He shared the backfield with three teammates. Also, if the Patriots were up big in a game, McKnight spent the rest of the game cheering on the underclassmen.
Perhaps it’s the players. Guys like Morton. He once dreaded early week practices, sessions that some say are more intense than many of their regular-season games. As a senior, he embraced them, eager to push — no, extend, himself in order to reach his full potential.
Linebacker Duke Riley, who has 15 scholarship offers, hopes his final choice will push him as hard as his high school program. J.T. Curtis expects as many as 12 seniors to earn some kind of football scholarship. Others will earn academic scholarships.
Maybe it’s their ability remind themselves that reaching the Mercedes-Benz Superdome the second week of December is still an annual honor, not an assumed invitation.
“That’s probably the most difficult thing that we have to overcome,” said J.T. Curtis, son of the late Rev. J.T. Curtis Sr., the school’s founder. “Parents and friends of program, alumni; they just assume this is going to happen. And that’s not the case. You have to earn your way.”
Other teams talk about being a family. They are. And the family that plays together wins together.
“I know everything about everybody on this football team, everything about all the coaches,” Riley said. “I’ve stayed at all the coaches’ houses. If I ever need anything, the coaches are there for me. Always there to talk to. All the coaches, all the players, we’re always trying to bring each other up and stay positive.”
Numbers reveal plenty
The Class of 2013 earned two. They did it this fall by becoming the highest-scoring team in school history, outscoring opponents 677-60. This included a 33-3 rout against Tampa Plant, the defending state champion in Florida’s biggest classification.
This season, John Curtis’ offense scored every 5.8 plays. Its top four rushers averaged more than 10 yards per carry. Morton threw 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Receiver Malachi Dupre (36 catches, 816 yards) caught a TD every 2.4 receptions. He finished with 15 touchdowns.
The first team defense allowed just three TDs. The entire defense posted seven shutouts in 14 games. No opponent scored more than one TD against the defense. Nine players earned spots on the Class 2A state team.
“It’s been everything and more,” Morton said. “The school just makes you feel part of the family.”
A winning one.