North Carolina's Ronald Curry is rebounding from a torn Achilles
Until last week North Carolina junior quarterback Ronald Curry
had not seen the final play of his 1999 season, the one on which
he tore his right Achilles tendon and put one of the most
anticipated athletic careers in Tar Heels history on hold. But on
Aug. 10, 10 months and one day after the injury and shortly after
Curry had finished the first full practice of his postsurgical
life, he sat in a chair on the second floor of the Kenan Football
Center and watched the play intently.
Last Oct. 9, in its fifth game of the season, North Carolina led
Georgia Tech 7-0 with a little more than 13 minutes to go in the
second quarter. Facing second-and-six on his own 15, Curry, then
a sophomore, faked a handoff and rolled right on a naked bootleg.
Yellow Jackets defensive end Greg Gathers, who had not bit on the
fake, came straight upfield toward Curry. "I was looking to
throw," says Curry, who had started four games as a freshman.
"The coverage was tight. I wanted to eat the ball." Just as
Gathers began to wrap him up, Curry took a slight hop to his
right, as if he were barefoot and had stepped on something sharp.
"It felt like it was going before I got hit," Curry says of the
tendon. Gathers knocked Curry flat, then got up. Curry didn't.
"It wasn't a sudden thing," says Curry of his injury. "The tendon
had been bothering me since 11th grade. I'm happy that the tear
happened so early in my career, rather than my senior year. Now
I've got two years to perform instead of playing in pain."
Two years ago Curry arrived in Chapel Hill from Hampton, Va., as
the most heralded high school quarterback in the nation and one
of the best point guards. Now his former high school rival
Michael Vick has become the nation's darling in football and
Curry is making his five-step drops at three-quarter speed.
Nonetheless, Tar Heels fans are excited about his return to
football and the possibility that he could rejoin the basketball
team after missing all of last season.
Curry awoke at 6 a.m. on the first morning of two-a-days and
"didn't hit the snooze button two or three times, like normal,"
he says. He arrived 15 minutes early for his 7:15 meeting with
new offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain. Curry was even more
impressive when he took the field for practice. "He was very
fluid, very smooth," says O'Cain, the head coach at N.C. State
for seven years before being fired last November. "One time he
pulled the ball down and reacted to pressure without any
hesitancy. That tells me he has forgotten about his [injury]."
Still, Curry must learn a new, more wide-open offense and work
through any fears of taking a hit again before Carolina opens
against Tulsa, on Sept. 2.
Curry doesn't appear worried, and neither do his teammates.
Middle linebacker Brandon Spoon, who missed nine games last fall
after rupturing a tendon in his left biceps, says, "I saw him
playing basketball this summer, guarding Vince [Carter, the
former Tar Heel and current Toronto Raptors star]. There's only
so much tentativeness you can have and [cover Vince]. The first
game will be the test. But even if Ronald is only halfway
healthy, he can do things other people can't."
TCU's Hei$man Bid
Turning a Frog Into a Prince
Talk about the need for campaign-finance reform. Thanks to
donations from a few well-heeled Horned Frogs alumni, TCU will
spend $90,000 on a Heisman Trophy marketing campaign for senior
tailback LaDainian Tomlinson. According to the marketing plan,
Tomlinson's candidacy can "brand the institution on the national
level"--or, as athletic director Eric Hyman says, see that TCU's
name "will get to every nook and cranny in the country."
In June the school sent Tomlinson to New York City to speak to
alumni and, not by happenstance, meet with national media. TCU
hired a design firm to create the Web site LTfor2000.com.
Tomlinson's face is on postcards, notebooks and Fort Worth-area
billboards and buses. He also appears in print and electronic
ads. An informational CD-ROM on Tomlinson will be distributed
this month to Heisman voters.
Not since Terry Baker of Oregon State won the Heisman in '62 has
the winner come from a program as low-profile as TCU's. But
Tomlinson led the nation in rushing last season with 1,850 yards
and set the Division I-A single-game rushing record with 406
yards against UTEP.
Until now $15,000 had been considered a lavish amount to devote
to a Heisman campaign. Wisconsin spent $2,000 last year to
promote Ron Dayne, who won the award. Says the sports information
director at a school with a rival Heisman candidate this fall,
"For $90,000, they ought to just send every voter $100."
Cal Isn't Bearish On Holmoe
Cal coach Tom Holmoe is under fire from fans after going 12-21
over three seasons. The school administration showed its support
for him last fall by offering a multiyear contract extension,
but Holmoe says he won't sign the deal until he proves he can
win. Cal's 2000 schedule is one of the 10 toughest in the
country.... Chris Juergens, Washington's leading receiver last
fall with 42 catches for 516 yards, has a crack at the top of
his right tibia. Doctors will decide this week how to repair it.
Juergens underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after
last season and practiced at full speed in the spring, but the
leg started hurting again over the summer. There's now swelling
behind the knee. If surgery is necessary, Juergens may be lost
for the season, leaving the Huskies with only two receivers who
had more than 10 receptions in '99.... For the first time since
1975, Ivy League teams will open against nonconference
opponents. One drawback: Most of those opponents will be playing
their third game.
The Comeback Kids
Never mind the Heisman Trophy. There's a bevy of guys who'll be
happy just to get back on the field after having their 1999
season cut short by injury. Here are 10--in addition to North
Carolina's Ronald Curry--who could make the biggest impact.
POSITION, SCHOOL INJURY GAMES MISSED
Joe Burns, tailback, Georgia Tech Broken right ankle 10
The 5'10", 205-pound senior averaged 6.2 yards rushing, 13.7
receiving in '99
Brian Poli-Dixon,split end, UCLA Fractured right wrist 8
The 6'5", 216-pound junior could replace Danny Farmer as the
Justin Fargas, running back, Broken left leg 12
The 6'1", 187-pound junior (below) will play both on offense and
Bobby Jackson, safety, Illinois Torn ACL in left knee 12
The 6'1", 211-pound junior has two career interceptions, 10
William McCray, fullback, Broken right leg 11
The 6-foot, 225-pound junior is a dependable blocker and good
Carson Palmer, quarterback, Broken right collarbone 9
USC was 2-0 before losing the 6'5", 220-pound sophomore (1,755
yards in '98)
Phil Petty, quarterback, Strained left knee 5
The 6'3", 205-pound junior threw for 803 yards in six games last
Kenny Smith, defensive tackle, Torn ACL in right knee 4
The 6'5", 289-pound senior had nine tackles against Tennessee
Brandon Spoon, linebacker, Torn left biceps 9
The 6'2", 245-pound senior led the Tar Heels with 138 tackles in
Zac Zedalis, center, Florida Torn cartilage in left knee 12
The Gators desperately need the experience of the 6'2",