They are top prospects in two sports – football and basketball. National No. 1s, in fact. They have been threats from multiple positions on the gridiron, including the toughest position of all – quarterback.
When people ask about the greatest high school football player I’ve ever seen, my answer is the same – Ronald Curry. When they ask who is the best I’ve seen lately, that’s easy – Terrelle Pryor.
They are separated only by geography – Curry being from Hampton, Va., and Pryor from Jeanette, Pa. – 10 years and maybe some history.
Otherwise, Terrelle Pryor is a show I’ve seen before in Ronald Curry. It’s called déjà vu.
Mike Smith has been the head coach of the Hampton high school football team for 37 years. In that time he has coached and seen many spectacular football players. But one stands above that crowd.
“Ronald Curry is the best I have ever seen in my life,” Smith said.
Curry made all-state four times as a quarterback and made all-state as a safety and punt returner three times. He was also second team all-state as a punter as a junior and senior. The numbers Curry put up simply were staggering. He finished his Hampton career with a state record 11,519 total yards and 8,212 yards passing. Curry finished with 90 passing touchdowns, 74 rushing touchdowns, and 22 returns for touchdowns. He was the consensus No. 1 player in the nation, won virtually every national award and was the USA Today Player of the Year (’97) and was their first team quarterback twice (their first ever junior selection).
More importantly, Curry led his team to three consecutive state championships. In 1996 Hampton outscored their opposition 768 to 83 and that team is said to be the greatest football team in Virginia high school history. Hampton only lost one game with Curry at the helm and that was his freshman season.
“If I would have had Ronald when he was an 8th grader he would have started for us,” proclaimed Smith.
Curry had it all: size (he was 6 feet 2), the big arm, lighting quickness and blazing speed. Despite those physical attributes, there was more to Ronald Curry.
“What people don’t understand about Ronald was just how intelligent he was out there on the football field,” Smith said. “I mean his mind was like a computer. He saw and understood everything. He also had so much confidence. He was never ever cocky but confident and that rubbed off on everyone. Only great ones can do that. Ronald Curry always and I mean always believed that we would win and we did.
“Ronald was also cool out there. If something bad happen he would say ‘don’t worry coach. I will make it up the next play.’ And so you know what? He did just that every time.
“Had he elected to only play football then he would be a quarterback in the NFL right now.”
To sing the praises of Ronald Curry and understand what this means one must simply understand Hampton or what they call in Virginia the Peninsula district. This area has produced some extraordinary athletes -- Allen Iverson, Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith, Michael Vick, Alonzo Mourning, J.R. Reed, Joe Smith, Dre Bly, Terry Kirby, and Dwight Stevenson. From that group came five National Players of the Year. A fixture in the Hampton community for many years, Boo Williams, was also Curry’s AAU basketball coach (Boo Williams Summer League) and he has held that position for the past 26 years.
“As a pure athlete I would certainly say that Ronald would be in the top five (from Hampton) no doubt,” Williams said. “But when you talk about all the great football and basketball players from this area and you say someone is that good then you are saying a mouthful.
“I think Ronald was the best when it comes to football though. Iverson was a close second but he didn’t play football his senior year. People don’t realize how good Iverson was in football. He was Deion Sanders. But in terms of football, Ronald was in another world.”
“I have always said that Ronald Curry was the Cadillac of football and Allen Iverson was the Cadillac of basketball,” Smith said.
Curry accomplished the unimaginable – he was a national player of the year in not just one, but two sports.
Curry led Hampton to a state basketball championship in 1996. He set school records in basketball for points and assists. Curry averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game as a senior and 23.5 points and 5.7 assists as a junior.
“I firmly believe that had Ronald only played basketball he would have played in the NBA and still be in the NBA,” Williams said. “Boy he was so athletic and so willing to learn. He was physical and very quick. Ronald was just a great point guard.”
Dave Telep, the Scout.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst, has been covering basketball recruiting for 12 years. He saw Ronald Curry during his second season as a scout.
“No doubt in my mind that Ronald Curry could have been an NBA player had he played basketball only” Telep said. “He was a terrific point guard that had a great identity and presence.”
Curry, who was a McDonald’s All-American in hoops, won the event’s slam dunk contest and was the game’s MVP. All the other national accolades rolled in as well.
“Ronald Curry set the bar for all two-sport athletes after him,” Telep said. “People forget how much national attention he received from being the ‘guy’ in basketball and football. Ronald Curry was the perfect storm because he was from an area that transcended sports and Ronald Curry himself transcended both football and basketball. What’s going on now dwarfs in comparison to the magnitude of what Curry did back then. He helped pave the way for Terrelle Pryor.”
Certainly the game of football is evolving. It does every year. The game has opened up and the spread attack is taking college football by storm. But to run the spread most effectively then you have to have the right quarterback. That quarterback this season is Terrelle Pryor, the nation’s top football recruit.
Pryor’s game is almost a carbon copy of Vince Young’s. He has similar size (6-6, 220) and speed. And like Young, Pryor just refuses to lose. This past season he led the Jeanette (Pa.) Jayhawks to a 16-0 record, a AA State Championship and he was recently named the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year. Pryor had 3,788 yards of total offense. That broke down to 1,899 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns and 1,889 yards passing and 23 touchdowns. He finished his Jayhawk career with 8,499 total yards of offense. Along the way, a legend was born.
“I have watched Terrelle develop a lot over the last three years,” said Bob Lichtenfels, a Scout.com recruiting analyst. “He has got to be the most athletically gifted player ever from Western Pennsylvania, if not the state. Terrelle, Tony Dorsett, and LaVarr Arrington are the three best players this state has produced over the last forty years or so. They were all game changing players.”
Jeannette beat Dunmore (Pa.) for the AA State Championship 49-21 this past season. In winning, Pryor earned great respect and admiration from Jack Henzes, the Dunmore Head Coach.
“First, Terrelle Pryor plays the game with great character and that’s something I really admire,” Henzes said. “In 38 years of coaching, he is also the most outstanding athlete that I have ever seen at this level. I knew we were in trouble when I saw him play on T.V. earlier this year and in watching the film prior to the title game. I knew it would be hard. Our kids knew it would be hard. And he was better than we all thought.”
Pryor is very well suited for the game’s hottest offense, the spread. Along with his great size, he has speed, versatility and athleticism. Pryor has played defensive end, safety and would also make a terrific receiver or tight end. There is nothing he can’t do on the field. He also has every intangible you can’t measure, like leadership, toughness, the ability to raise everyone’s game around him and plain and simple, the guy is a winner.
“The knock on Terrelle is his mechanics,” Lichtenfels said. “Is he a true quarterback? With every rep, every throw he gets better. He’s working to become the total quarterback and he’s working hard at that. Terrelle doesn’t panic and shows so much poise. I think he gets that from basketball. If the ball is in his hands he knows he will win. Terrelle Pryor refuses to lose and his teammates feed off that. He’s one of those players that just makes everyone better.
“Terrelle has the size of a tight end but runs like a small running back. He’s strong and can out run most everyone. He is one of those guys that looks like he’s in slow motion and everyone else is going full speed.”
Almost two years ago to the day (January 28th, 2006), while only a sophomore, Pryor caught the Panther staff off guard and committed to play basketball for the University of Pittsburgh. At that time, Pryor was ranked the No. 8 sophomore in 2006 class.
“It wasn’t very hard (to decide early),” Pryor told Telep. “I wanted to stay home so my father could see me. It wasn’t a hard decision.”
But when things started to get serious with football Pryor had a change of heart and a few months after his early decision he opened things back up.
“It was the wrong choice,” Pryor told Lichtenfels last week. “I was young and it wasn’t the right place for me.
“I started to rethink things prior to my junior season when the football offers started to come in. That’s when I really starting to think about football.”
“At that time Terrelle was a top 10 player in that class,” Telep said.
“I love the way he attacks the rim and he shoots the ball well. To me, Terrelle is just a remarkable athlete because he can go right from football to basketball.
“But as good as he is he will always play catch up in basketball. The high end kids are just too good and they play the game every day of the year. At some point, there was a fork in the road for Terrelle with basketball and football and football just took some of the steam out of basketball for him. Don’t get me wrong, he can play the game of basketball and he can play in college but the reality is that he’s universally regarded as a football player first. I would say to Terrelle to go for it.”
Note – Bob Lichtenfels, Dave Telep, Ben Sherman, and BuckeyeSports.com contributed to this story.