Collin Guggenheim’s childhood was John Curtis football.
His first memories center around tossing the ball in the park before scampering over to watch the Patriots play on Friday nights. His father, Rodney, a two-time state champion and John Curtis football alum, would walk his son up and down the sidelines as the younger Guggenheim admired one of the most dominant brands of high school football around.
As future fourth-round NFL draft pick Joe McKnight thundered up and down the field, the future Patriots quarterback had a front row seat to the heyday of coach J.T. Curtis’ domination. Including McKnight’s senior season in the fall of 2006, when Curtis would go 14-0 and win a state title by 34 points, the Patriots had won state titles in 10 of the past 14 seasons, missing a trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome once. They would win four more in the next six years.
So when the first senior class in more than four decades graduated this spring without a championship ring after Guggenheim’s first year as the team’s starter quarterback, the junior took it personally.
“That really hit me, and I don’t want to be remembered as one of those that walk out of here without one,” he said. “Until I get one, nothing will be fulfilled for me.
“I look at that trophy case, and I see all that’s been accomplished, but it’s not finished for me until I have at least one in there. I want to leave my mark here.”
Guggenheim will get his second chance this Saturday at noon against Catholic-Baton Rouge (11-1) in the 2018 Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Division I state championship, a rematch of the Bears’ 20-14 victory in the first meeting between the teams a year ago.
In the loss, he was named the team MVP after rushing for 131 yards on 19 carries and throwing for another 63 yards. But the stats and final score fall far short in telling the complete picture.
In the first quarter, Guggenheim collided with one of his lineman and lead blockers on a run around the right side and fumbled the ball. In the dogpile, his throwing hand was stepped on, breaking his index finger and tearing the UCL in his thumb. Even with his adrenaline spiking, the quarterback said the pain was noticeable, keeping him from having much feel beyond palming the ball for the final three quarters.
His interception with 36 seconds left sealed the defeat.
“When it’s your first year, your head gets big. You’re playing in the Superdome, and I’m thinking ‘I’m finally here.’ I think that was part of the issue,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was intimidated, but it’s an experience, because the Saints play there and my dad got to play in the Dome. Knowing that and following in his footsteps was real for me. I’ve always been hoping I could do the same things he did, but better.”
The elder Guggenheim played five years at running back for Curtis, beginning when he was in eighth grade in 1988. That year, the Patriots beat Washington-Marion, 14-13, in the Class 3A title game, and they also won the rematch two years later, 42-13. After graduating, Rodney played at Iowa State as the Cyclones’ fullback, rushing for 675 yards and scoring 10 total touchdowns in his career.
Though he raised his son around the program during Collin’s early years, Rodney said he’s done his best to take a step back from his son’s football life recently. He wanted to be a supportive dad, but not overbearing. A ready and willing resource but not a tyrant.
“Unless he asks, I don’t watch film with him,” he said. “I don’t push him to train. I told him, ‘I can’t want it more than you. I can’t play for you. I’ll give you everything you need, and it’s up to you to use it or not.’
“If he comes up to me and says he doesn’t want to play next year, that’s his decision. To me, it’s important to give him the foundation, but at the end of the day, it’s about the team and him and how much he wants to give to the cause.”
He said he’s seen a dramatic change in his son, who a year ago was doing enough on and off the field, but not much more. This summer, though, the junior was monitoring his own meals, working out regularly and rarely staying out late. During the season, he gets home from practice, talks to his parents for a few minutes, grabs food and heads up to his room where he pops in a tape Guggenheim could likely narrate frame by frame.
“I’ve watched the state game at least once a week,” he said. “It’s something, I’ll never forget it, and it sucks going through life, knowing you lost. But the beauty of it is that we get another chance with them, and I feel like things should go the right way this time.
“Every time I watch, I always see something a little different. The more you watch it, the more I hope things are second nature when I see them on Saturday. The eyes in the sky never lie, but it’s not as much about making the mistakes but about how you rebound.”
Two weeks ago, Guggenheim and the Patriots (12-0) found themselves down a touchdown in a matter of seconds after Evangel Christian took the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score in their semifinal matchup. Moments later, the John Curtis quarterback was stripped from behind near midfield, giving the Eagles the chance to take a 14-0 lead.
“From the early years, if I’d had an early turnover, I shut down,” he said. “Everybody who knows me would tell you that, but the best thing I’ve done over the years is to learn how to overcome adversity.”
Guggenheim led the Patriots on a scoring tear, notching 28 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 35-20 halftime lead. The junior finished with five total touchdowns and rushed for 127 yards on 15 carries and completed 5 of 6 passes for 118 yards.
Now, he feels like there’s little he hasn’t already seen, experienced, studied and prepared for. Because Guggenheim understands that pulling on the Patriots jersey over his pads and walking into the Superdome doesn’t guarantee you a title.
“They out-physicaled us last year,” he said. “Us losing was an eye-opener, and we won’t take anything for granted now this year.”