Quarterback Kory Curtis has been part of mega college football programs, the ones that are on TV every week. He’s been part of small college programs to which College Gameday never pays any mind. But the NFL doesn’t care where you come from, only where you’re headed. Curtis is headed to the NFL. It’s just a longer journey than most.
Like many about to enter the draft, Curtis began playing football early. Quarterback was his natural position. But before he could run, his dad wanted him to walk. He began playing football not in Pop Warner but a flag football league, learning and understanding the game as well as a young kid could.
“My dad kind of wanted me to get used to the concepts and how to read things without getting hit first,” Curtis told me in an interview earlier this week. “And so I got comfortable at that time understanding what I thought was an offense, just being able to be comfortable making the throws and everything like that. Once he saw that I could compete at a high level, he moved me to tackle football.”
In high school, Curtis wasn’t tackled much. Most of the time, defenses had to watch him throw touchdowns. He set Island Coast’s record books, a two-time team MVP who won back-to-back district titles.
A popular high school recruit from Cape Coral, Florida, Curtis had more offers than he could nearly count. Sixteen to 20 but he turned them all down. Instead, he accepted a preferred walk-on opportunity at Ohio State University, joining a QB room with names like Joe Burrow and the late Dwayne Haskins. For Curtis, the draw was the chance to play in a high-octane offense.
“They told me that we’re looking for more of a pocket passer,” he said. “I could throw the ball, move the ball downfield. I grew up loving Coach [Urban] Meyer at Florida with him and Tim Tebow. They told me to go home, pray about it, see if I felt comfortable going there. So I turned down other scholarship offers and I decided to go to Ohio State.”
Enticing as the idea of being a Buckeye was, it didn’t offer the chance to play. Two weeks after Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State, Curtis made the same move, leaving the Buckeyes for FCS Bryant University. It was a short stay but a memorable one. In his first start, he set a school record with 394 passing yards against Rhode Island, though the historic mark came in a loss.
Academics being important to him and Bryant not offering the Healthcare Administration Master’s Program he wanted (after studying cellular Molecular Biology), Curtis moved on to his third school and transferred to Gannon. But he did so in the middle of a pandemic and with the 2020 season lost, he found ways to remain sharp, organizing a group of local players to help him.
“I started off with a group of five kids and then by the end of the COVID we had like 20 kids working out together,” he said
Three schools in essentially three seasons exacts a heavy mental toll for most players. Not Curtis. Calling going to Gannon one of “the best decisions of my career,” he made an immediate impact in 2021, throwing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for four more. A difficult PSAC schedule that included powerhouses like Shepherd and IUP caused the Golden Knights to finish just below .500 at 5-6. But Curtis was at home, playing in an offense he thrived in and one that reminded him of the start of his college football journey.
“The offense [head coach Erik Raeburn] ran, he’s a Mount Union guy. He loves Coach Meyer and Coach [Ryan] Day’s offense. So it was kind of like a similar verbiage, similar type of offense that I ran at Ohio State.”
In 2022, Curtis – and the team – took another jump. His numbers shot up across the board, 27 touchdowns, only four interceptions, a completion percentage that rocketed 17 points, while Gannon finished 8-3, highlighted by an upset win over #11 IUP. Curtis was the star of the day, accounting for six total touchdowns, four passing and two rushing. None were longer than this 75-yard strike down the middle of the field to WR Bransen Stanley.
Dominating at quarterback is enough for one player to contribute but Curtis did even more. When Gannon’s starting punter moved back home to Australia, Curtis went to Raeburn and convinced him to serve as the team’s quarterback and punter. A kicker and punter growing up, he utilized those talents to travel with the team while at Ohio State. And when they were needed last year, he stepped up and stepped in.
“I was like, ‘Hey coach, I got you.’ And he’s like, ‘Okay, as long as you don’t get hurt.’ I was like, ‘I won’t, I’ll take a couple steps back and I’ll one-step and kick this…I actually got to do a little bit of field goals this year too.”
When the rest of the offense left the field, Curtis didn’t, and he averaged nearly 40 yards per punt with five travelling 50+ yards. Curtis also nailed six PATs, making him a true two-way player on offense and special teams. Here’s one example of him beautifully landing this punt inside the five in a win over Cal U.
His time at Gannon was good off the field, too. He met his wife at school, proposing to her on Senior Day.
After his final snap at Gannon, Curtis set his sights on the NFL. The only problem? He couldn’t get into a Pro Day. Gannon was too small to hold its own dedicated workout and for most D2 players, they try to get an invite to a local but bigger school. For some, it’s places out east like Villanova or somewhere in Ohio. But Curtis couldn’t get any door open. That’s when Steelers scout Mike Butler stepped in.
“Mike Butler from the Steelers reached out to me and he said, “We’re looking forward to seeing you throw, we kinda wanna see you more.’ And I was like, ‘I can’t get into a Pro Day’. He said, ‘Have you tried Duquesne?’ I was like, ‘Yes sir, I have.’ He said ‘Let me talk to somebody.'”
With close ties to the school and the weight of a NFL team pushing down, Duquesne invited Curtis to its late March Pro Day. Butler didn’t attend but the Steelers were represented by Scouting Coordinator Casey Weidl, brother of Assistant GM Andy Weidl. Several other NFL teams showed up to watch Curtis and others – like IUP WR Duane Brown – work out. Curtis said he spoke most extensively with the Houston Texans while the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers also made the trip.
Curtis didn’t squander the chance. According to reports, he had a fantastic workout, even though he was adjusting to receivers he had never thrown to before. Flashing a big arm, there were only a handful of incompletions during the session. Curtis has heard he could be drafted in the seventh round or at worse, become a priority free agent. All he wants is a chance.
“It was a blessing that [Butler] helped me get into one of those things to be able to throw in front of all those teams…I’m just excited to see wherever I go, wherever I land and I’m gonna go make an organization better,” he said.
With a big frame — he is listed 6’4, 235 pounds — an equally large arm and a punting background, it’s easy to draw comparisons to a young Ben Roethlisberger. As a late-round pick or free agent, he’s going to enter the NFL as a backup trying to make a team. While Curtis is content with any role the league offers, he believes in his potential.
“I know that I could be a good backup, but I also know that I could be a good starter,” he said. “I have the arm strength and the mental capacity to be able to do it. So just gonna seize every opportunity that I get.”