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By Buck Ringgold

There's a lot of newness these days around Northside High School.

As the result of a bond issue that passed a few years ago, new and revamped buildings have sprung up across the campus, including the addition of a freshman center. There's also a new and expanded cafeteria.

Then, of course, there's the presence of a brand-new arena, which finally opened for basketball on Tuesday.

On that same day, something else new took place on campus, and it's perhaps the biggest association people have with Northside, even in the days when it was known as Fort Smith High School.

For years, people associated Northside with football, and it was a school that won state titles, from the days it was FSHS to when it was renamed Northside in the 1960s and even into the 21st century.

Tuesday, the latest caretaker of the Grizzlies' football tradition was officially introduced to the public, Felix Curry. Later, he was introduced to the crowd attending Northside's basketball doubleheader, taking the microphone to speak in between games.

With Curry being promoted from defensive coordinator to take over from the retiring Mike Falleur, it won't be an entirely new program.

At the same time, just like Northside High School looks vastly different than it did a few years ago, the promotion of Curry was also conceived with the future in mind.

"A lot of things that I'll bring are things that Coach Falleur has already brought, just a hard work ethic," said Curry on Tuesday, moments before Northside's basketball squads officially tipped off at the new arena. "Probably the difference in what we'll bring is a little bit different style of offense, but pretty much everything else will be similar to what you guys have seen.

"(Offensively, we'll) just open it up a little more on the perimeter. Northside will always have the faster athlete, and I think we're going to open it up a little bit more offensively."

Curry also doesn't have to apply an extreme makeover of the program, something that he witnessed firsthand when he came from Georgia along with a man he had coached against in that state, Falleur, when the latter returned to take over his alma mater prior to the 2013 season.

But while the Grizzlies experienced a great degree of success under Falleur, including numerous playoff trips and a trip to the 7A semifinals in 2018, Curry is determined to take Northside to a higher level.

Especially when it comes to trying to join the upper echelon of the 7A-Central, which includes four-time 7A state champion Bryant and perennial contender North Little Rock.

"It's definitely a different job than when Coach Falleur (was hired); it was more resurrecting a program, and now it's at the status that we're trying to maintain and just actually trying to add some things that will get us farther along to compete with the Bryants every year," Curry said.

"Coach Falleur and I have talked about this, but when he took over, they were down in numbers, so we really had to press upon getting kids to come out. Short of begging them, we had to really get the numbers up, and I think the numbers are such now that we can kind of focus on not so much the quantity but the quality of players that we keep and we deal with."

Curry has been a head coach before, for a brief period back in Georgia. While he does have that experience, it was some other things that convinced Fort Smith Public Schools athletics director Michael Beaumont, among others, that Curry was the choice to continue the Grizzlies' winning legacy.

Even in a field that Beaumont said featured some of the top coaches in the state along with surrounding states who were interested in the job.

"His actions, you can already see of what he does on the field and how he prepares and how he helps our kids be the best they can on the field," Beaumont said.

"But it's off the field that a lot of people don't see; when he goes in and helps a young man that needs help or a ride to work or can't get to camp to get looked at by some other schools but he drives them six hours to go and do these kind of things. Someone may not have that person in their life that they can look up to and he's there, that's Coach Curry."

And when Grizzly players sat and talked to Curry, often, the conversation would soon steer away from football.

"As a coaching staff, we talk about those guys will be athletes for a small percentage of their lives, and I don't want to be the guy to only talk football," he said. "If we can't teach them anything about life and leadership and character, then I think we've done an injustice."

Curry will have a huge test right out of the gate, the Grizzlies' season opener in August against city rival Southside. Falleur won the past six games versus the Mavericks.

But whether Curry is game planning for Southside or Bryant or North Little Rock, he wants to maintain a level approach regardless of who the Grizzlies are lining up against each and every week.

"To be perfectly honest, so we don't get emotionally tied, we're trying to approach every game the same," Curry said. "I learned some lessons in the past that I try not to make one game too big and not another game too small, so we try to give every team its due respect and prep as if we're playing the best team in the state every week."

Like the new buildings on the Northside campus, which still carries over elements of the trademark architecture that was prevalent on campus for decades, Curry knows the tradition and prestige of the Grizzlies' football program.

But in the similar manner to how the look of the campus has evolved, Curry wants to bring a similar evolution to the Grizzlies and take the next step toward being a championship-level program.

At this point, so far, so good.

"I think any time you go into any organization at any level, I think there would be some challenges that come up, but right now, I'm not foreseeing anything," he said. "We have a good group of guys coming back, the majority of the coaching staff is coming back, so right now it's a smooth transition, but we know that there will be some challenges ahead, which right now, I can't see them."