Interview: Legendary coach J.T. Curtis adamant about allowing football to be played in Louisiana

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As the most accomplished high school coach in Louisiana prep football history (592 wins) and with the second most wins in United States history, J.T. Curtis understands the commitment necessary and the exhilaration of reaching the ultimate goal of winning a state championship.

His John Curtis Christian Patriots have captured 26 official state championships and another that was taken away. They are always a force and a threat to win it all, having won the Division I state championship most recently in 2018.

If Curtis gets a chance to play in 2020, the Patriots will be a definite threat in Division I once again while J.T. Curtis is poised to become only the second coach in the country’s history to win 600 games.

The “if” part is a big part of the equation. Will there be prep football in Louisiana in 2020 and what will it look like?

Curtis addressed the questions on The Tailgaters Show on 106.1 FM Saturday morning.

“This is probably the most unusual situation that we could possibly be in,” Curtis said. “I think we have 35 school days remaining before we get into a game. To practice and how you try to keep your kids fresh and yet still teach them conditioning and try to obey the rules as they’ve asked us to do is really a challenge. The kids have been awesome. They are so anxious to play and so excited about playing, I think they would endure anything just for the opportunity.”

The LHSAA has announced that it plans to have a football season in Louisiana beginning the second week of October. Does Curtis feel the LHSAA is handling the pandemic well?

“I think they’re kind of in a no-win situation,” Curtis said. “The state is kind of dictating what they want done.”

Curtis pointed out differences in some other states.

“Some of the other athletic associations around the country have just not done what the state has asked them to do and they decided to go ahead and play because they felt the safety issue with their kids was sufficient and they didn’t need to follow the edicts of the state,” Curtis said. “We have not chosen to do that, at this point. I think they’re trying to do everything then can to give us an opportunity to play and that’s a positive thing.”

With week one and week two games already canceled, Curtis feels that a jamboree against an opponent should be allowed prior to starting the regular season. Curtis was scheduled to face Karr to open the season.

“Brice (Brown) and I were scheduled to play on the first playing date,” Curtis said. “It was a great game last year (Curtis won 42-39). It went down to the wire. The fans were involved. I think there was a lot of anticipation. We called and they were more than willing to do the jamboree. It’s a great test for your team against a team like Karr to get ready for the season. If they allow us to do it, we could put it together in five or six days.”

The key to getting back on the field in late September or to start October sits is John Bel Edwards.

“I think the governor is dictating a great deal of this,” Curtis said. “He has more information than any of us. It would seem that if LSU and Tulane would be able to play, certainly we could have some type of controlled scrimmage or a shortened jamboree game that we can play. The restrictions placed on the games are significantly different than they have ever been. Without a practice game of implementing those restrictions, it will be a challenge.”

The fact that Alabama, Florida and Texas have started prep football and that Mississippi is about to do so provides encouragement for Louisiana.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Curtis said. “If they can do if successfully, it will help our cause. It might give us an incentive in moving forward. I would think that would be a wise and prudent move. I think there is pressure being applied someplace about not playing.”

As a senior citizen, Curtis understands the risks involved in being around others.

“People in my age group are vulnerable,” Curtis said. “It is incumbent upon me to take care of myself, to wear my mask appropriately, to take care of my body physically, to make sure that I distance myself. I don’t go to large parties. When I go to church, we separate significantly. When we walk out of the building, I put my mask on. That’s my responsibility.”

Curtis feels the impact on student-athletes is quite different, given their age.

“I think it’s a shame that we are punishing young people whose rate of illness and rate of significant death is almost minute and not allowing them to play,” Curtis said. “I just think there’s a better way to handle that.”

Thus far, one student-athlete at Curtis has opted out of playing football this season which J.T. agrees with. Still, the coach does not feel the impact and risk do not warrant not allowing teams to play.

“I read a statistic the other day that in the parochial system (in Louisiana), 33,000 students that the parochial system is caring for, that it was less than 0.5 percent of children that have problems,” Curtis said. “That is right in line with what the trend is nationally. They’re the group we are punishing and they’re the group that are less vulnerable than any of us. We probably have overreacted a little bit.”

Curtis feels it is time to take the next step to allow athletics to take place.

“I think you’ve got to try to move forward with your best intentions and make the kids understand the importance of being responsible,” Curtis said. “I yell ‘social distance’ at them 30 times a day. That’s what we have to do. That’s part of the educational process, to help them understand the importance of following the rules so we can proceed with whatever any activity it is that we want to do.”

Curtis is adamant about the diligence of schools and coaches to take the very best care of their student-athletes.

“The most expensive babysitters in the city of New Orleans work from 3 to 6 every night,” Curtis said. “They babysit a high energy, hormone-raging young group of boys and certainly young women also every day.

Keep them occupied in a positive environment that is going to be disciplined, in an environment that is going to teach social interaction, as well as teamwork and now we turn them loose and say, ‘see you later.’ What in the world is going to come of that? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Curtis feels school is the best and safest environment for young people.

“I don’t care who you are,” Curtis said. “I don’t care what level that you are in life in terms of workplace or school, routine and consistency is what brings about success. Making sure that you can consistently depend upon the environment that you are going in to be able to achieve your goal. If you walk into an environment that is chaos, that has no direction, no stability, nothing successful gets completed. It’s a safe place, better than the street.”

As for the 2020 Patriot football team, opponents can expect more of the same.

“I think we’re going to have good team speed across the board,” Curtis said. “We won’t have anybody like Corey Wren but neither does anybody else. Losing a four-year starter at quarterback (Colin Guggenheim) is difficult but Buddy Taylor got some time last year and was able to have significant snaps and is an excellent athlete, our point guard in basketball. We think he’ll step in and do a really good job.
There is one area of strength which the Patriots possess.

“We feel good about our secondary, a strong group back there that will be able to play press-down defense if we need to. Running back will be a group of committee. We’ll play four or five there. The most difficult thing is we haven’t seen any of them in action, in a game-type situation. That always concerns you.”

Football is unlike any other sport when it comes to preparation vs. actual games.

“When you put the pads on, everything changes,” Curtis said. “It’s the only sport that you can’t practice out of the season that is just like the sport in the season. Everything changes. That’s the big question for all of the schools. We have hope that these guys will mesh together with a tremendous willingness to overcome and endure and that comes with realizing that they could lose their season. They have been a joy to work with.”

If the season is played, as is always the case, expect John Curtis to be playing into December in 2020.

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