John Curtis motivated to make run at title

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J.T. Curtis
(Photo: Parker Waters)

With 26 state championships on the field and a 27th which was removed by the LHSAA, John Curtis Christian is far and away the leader in state titles in Louisiana prep football history.

With 603 wins, J.T. Curtis is just 18 wins short of the all-time record for the most wins by a high school football coach in the United States. Curtis is easily the most accomplished coach in Louisiana prep football history.

The late John McKissick of Summerville High in Summerville, South Carolina holds the national mark with 621 victories.

While Curtis cannot catch McKissick this season, the watch is on.

Based on the annual success of John Curtis Christian, the expectation is that J.T. can achieve the mark of being the best in 2024.

First comes 2022.

The season will have a different look with the expectation that there will be a dramatic change in the number of select schools competing in Division I for a state championship, with appeals to be considered before a final decision is rendered on where schools are placed for playoff competition.

“I hope it holds and it should stand, based on the definition of select schools,” Curtis said. “It is certainly a better format and beneficial in creating a more balanced and as competitive a playoff as we can possibly have while being separated.”

The Patriots must replace quarterback Bubby Taylor, along with talented players in Javon Davis, Patrick LeBranch (now at Ponchatoula) and Connor Orgeron, among others.

There is a host of talent poised to do so.

John Curtis has seven starters returning on offense.

Offensively, three running backs return, including junior Marlon Prout (5-8, 170), senior Aaron Johnson (6-1, 200) and junior Jason Gabriel (5-8, 170).

Prout rushed 38 times for 220 yards, Johnson had 24 rushes for 200 yards and Gabriel carried 30 times for 140 yards last season.

“We’ve always tried to play a bunch of backs and we feel that’s important in our offense to remain fresh,” Curtis said. “We will do the same this year. We feel they have skill there which will allow them to be successful. All three had a lot of playing time last year and we have depth behind them. It is a deep position for us.”

At wide receiver, junior Mike Turner (6-1, 165) is back to lead the way after catching 14 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. Junior Tyler Mitchell (5-11, 175) also returns at wide receiver.

“Mike and Tyler are capable,” Curtis said. “Turner is a big play guy. He has excellent hands. He will double for us at free safety. His main focus will be offense. Mitchell has grown and developed. He has matured as a young man and player and can make plays.”

At tight end is senior Carnell Smith (5-11, 185) while senior Justin Brooks remains to see action where he has been since starting with the program.

Up front, the Patriots will be bolstered by the return of a pair of standout players who missed all of last season.

Junior Bryce Godfrey missed last year after starting as a freshman while massive Orion Duplessis (6-4, 340) also returns after missing last season.

Curtis will also benefit from the return of four players who started up front last year in senior Nick Dalferes, junior Richard Newby (6-0, 255), junior Christian Thibodeaux and Josh Teague.

Another big man who will figure in the mix is senior Andrew Martinez (6-3, 250), who sat out last year due to eligibility issues.

“This is likely the deepest spot on our team, our offensive line,” Curtis said. “That is important. We lose Bryce and Orion the week before last season opened. Others had to step up and play and they have experience now. It is the strong point of our team.”

Replacing Taylor, an outstanding athlete, is a difficult task.

The Patriots have a pair of players competing for the quarterback spot and both may play, including senior Jordan Smith (6-0, 180) and junior Dagan Bruno (6-0, 175).

“Replacing Buddy, who had experience and was an excellent athlete is a challenge,” Curtis said. “We have both young men battling for the top spot. We’re planning on playing both of them. Both are capable of playing winning football. When not at quarterback, they will both rotate in at wide receiver.”

Defensively, there are five starters returning.

John Curtis has a pair of standout linebackers back in senior Justin Horne (6-1, 210), who plays inside, and senior Austin Ackel (6-1, 215). Horne was outstanding with 70 tackles while Ackel had 41 stops, including five sacks a year ago.

“Horne started and played well for us and has terrific speed from sideline to sideline,” Curtis said. “He will be our leader there. Ackel is back on the outside. Others had time last year.”

Also slated to start on the outside is junior Zachary Drake (6-0, 160) while junior Kaleb Saavedra (5-10, 215) and sophomore A.J. Smith (5-10, 210) are vying for the other starting position on the inside.

In the secondary, senior strong safety Blake Wibel (5-10, 170) is back after recording 32 tackles and two interceptions in 2021. Junior Jason Curtis (5-9, 160) returns at free safety while Turner could play there as well.

At the cornerback spots are senior Tyler Hayes (6-2, 185) and junior Jermal Callio (5-10, 175).

“Blake and Jason both started for us last year,” Curtis said. “Jason will work some at free safety, as well as Turner. That spot may be by committee. Tyler has come on at cornerback, along with Callio. Both are track guys who can run.

Up front, senior Justin Brooks (6-3, 250) moves from tight end, where he was a three-year starter, to playing along the defensive line. He will be joined by senior Jon Morter (6-0, 230), a returning starter, along with sophomore Logan Barnes.

“Brooks will play on both sides of the ball while Morter rotated in last year,” Curtis said. “They will anchor things. We are a bit young up front.”

The kicker is junior Jaden Alphonso, who returns from last year while either Alphonso or Mitchell.

The schedule is as tough, if not the very toughest schedule of any team in Louisiana.

John Curtis opens its season at Central Lafourche before facing defending 5A state champion Zachary in a battle of the titans. Another tough test follows at Oak Grove, Mississippi.

“Oak Grove did not call because they are not good,” Curtis said. “Zachary is an elite program. It will prepare us well.”

District 9-5A competition begins against defending league champion and state finalist Jesuit on September 23. The Patriots then host Holy Cross and take on Archbishop Rummel.

Another very difficult road game follows against 2020 Class 5A state champion Acadiana. The Patriots complete the regular season against Brother Martin and at home against new district member and perennial power Karr.

“The league is a grind and it is a toss-up,” Curtis said. “I truly feel any team can beat any other on any given night in this district. It is an exceptional league. The key is staying healthy.”

Last season, John Curtis lost to Karr, fell to Brother Martin and lost to Jesuit in the state playoffs. There is no doubt that 9-5A will be the toughest league in Louisiana in 2022.

The Patriots last won a state championship in 2018 and John Curtis has not been to a title game since that year.

If the quarterback play is good, it is easy to see the Patriots and their legendary coach making a run to Caesars Superdome to end that mini drought in 2021.

“That is always the goal,” Curtis said. “I think we have an opportunity to compete against everyone we play and make a deep run in the playoffs. Talent-wise, we have enough players to compete.”

That is an ominous thought to ponder for opponents.


Click here for more CCS Prep Football team previews (including archives of past season previews).

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