In the fall of 1997, with scholarship offers from just about every college program in the nation, Ronald Curry elected to make his decision. He committed to Virginia and the Commonwealth went crazy. Ronald Curry would become a Cavalier and UVA fans saw him as their savior.
But it never materialized.
"Looking back at things I think Ronald handled recruiting very well early," Mike Smith said. "He was pretty clear about the situation and he was headed to Virginia. Then, I really don't know what happened. That's a decision Ronald had to make himself."
National Signing Day came and went and Curry didn't sign with Virginia or anyone else. Certainly the Cavaliers were still in the mix along with Florida State and North Carolina. Then, in late March, seven weeks after Signing Day, the Ronald Curry recruiting saga finally end as Curry selected the Tar Heels. The state of Virginia was in shock.
Curry was the Tar Heel starting quarterback for most of his four years and he finished as the school's record holder in career total offense (6,236 yards). But he never lived up to the expectations. How could he? There wasn't much talent around him or coaching stability, as North Carolina went through three offensive coordinators in his four seasons.
Curry played basketball for two seasons as UNC, where he made some good contributions as the team's point guard. He made 27 starts at point guard for the Tar Heels. During the 2000-2001 season he helped lead UNC to a No. 1 ranking. That year Curry averaged five points and four assists game.
Sadly, his North Carolina career never came close to the meteoric rise that was projected.
In the spring of 2002, Curry was hoping he would be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. He wasn't sure of who and when but he just hoped he would be selected, by someone. Right before the draft a funny thing happened. Hampton coach Mike Smith got a call from Brad Lowery (Michigan State assistant coach at that time), who had a good friend with the Raiders. Lowery told the Raiders that they needed to take a strong look at Curry.
Curry was then selected a few days later in the seventh round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He was drafted as a quarterback but was expected to catch on as a defensive back or receiver and help out with special teams in Oakland. At first, he was a reserve at receiver (eighth on the Oakland depth chart) and special teams player. Then, Curry busted out in 2004 with 50 receptions for 679 yards and six touchdowns before injuring his Achilles tendon. In early 2005, he re-injured the same Achilles tendon and was out for the year once again. This past season he caught 62 passes for over 727 yards and one touchdown.
During the 2006 off-season Curry signed a five year, 20 million dollar contract with the Raiders. Maybe Ronald Curry never quite lived up to the hype but this one time two-sport Hampton phenom persevered through tough times, injuries and adjusted to a new position to succeed in the National Football League.
Tough Decisions Ahead
Make no mistake about it, Terrelle Pryor has two tough decisions ahead, what school will he play for and how long will he attempt to play both football and basketball.
First things first, what school will it be for Pryor? Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan? Pryor has already officially visited Columbus and Ann Arbor while he has been to Happy Valley on a number of occasions for unofficial visits. But because of his hectic schedule (he's in the middle of basketball season at Jeannette High School), there has been hardly any time for more visits. Therefore, Pryor may extend his recruitment and not sign on Wednesday.
"I haven't been able to visit all the schools that I want to visit," Pryor told Lichtenfels last week. I really want to visit Oregon and Penn State."
Right now everyone in Jeannette, Pa. is offering their opinion of what Pryor will do. And it's tough for Pryor to try and shut everything down so he can figure things out. Sure Pryor is the top prospect in the country and with that comes pressure and expectations. That in itself can become absolutely overwhelming.
The bottom line is that Pryor has to what is best for Pryor and only Pryor.
"I have seen Pryor play a little," said Boo Williams, Curry's AAU coach. "That kid is a great athlete and I wish I could have watched him a little more than I have. But he just needs to pick the right university that's the right situation. That's the only way he has a chance to play both sports and make it work. That's exactly why Charlie Ward was able to do that (at FSU). Remember, Charlie didn't play football his first two seasons in college. He was a backup."
A budding friendship seems to certainly be helping out this two-sport star. A few seasons ago Pryor met Charlie Batch on a basketball court. Batch, who is currently the backup in Pittsburgh to Ben Roethlisberger, is a former football star both in high school (Steel Valley) and college (Eastern Michigan). He has taken it upon himself to be Pryor's mentor, advising the Jeannette star on his future.
"He's a good man and I talk to him on the phone," Pryor said. "I'll be talking to him to get some pointers and just see what's going on."
It didn't take long for Batch to realize just how bright Pryor's future really was both in football and basketball.
"It was one of those deals that you could just see the talent was there," Batch told the buckeyesports.com. "When I got a chance to see him, they would put him at quarterback until they got to the red zone. They couldn't really run the ball at that point, so they would split him out at wide receiver and throw the jump ball up to him.
"He has a feel for it, but that comes from playing basketball too. You have to find a lane to be able to dunk the ball like he's able to dunk it. You have to be able to see those creases. They go hand in hand. You have to have that vision."
There appears to be few doubts about Pryor's athletic ability, whether it's on the gridiron or hardwood. He has put up huge numbers in football and he just passed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for his high school career. Last season as a junior Pryor averaged 21.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game on the hardwood.
"I can see what he's doing now, but I think more important is the work ethic that he's putting in prior to it," Batch said. "You don't just show up on game day and all of a sudden expect to put it in. That's where all the other things, the weight room, the film work, the offseason programs that he went through to get to this point (pay off)."
"I just wake up every day and it comes to me," Pryor explained to Lichtenfels last week. "I don't do anything special. I can't wait to see what happens when I am pushed at the next level when I start training."
Jim Nesser has been Pryor's high school basketball coach the last two seasons and he has known Pryor since the 7th grade. He believes Pryor has the total package.
"I call him a point forward," Nesser said. "Terrelle has great vision and can score just about every way possible. If he made a 12 month commitment to basketball there is no telling how good he could become. He's that good and the sky is the limit for him. Terrelle understands the game so well and just needs to keep working. But that's tough with football."
One thing that everyone needs to understand about Terrelle Pryor is the commitment he has to himself, his coaches and teammates. He wants to be the best he can be and he wants to win. Jeannette played Dunmore for the state football championship at noon in Hershey, Pennsylvania. After the game ended Nesser got a call from his basketball standout minutes after winning the state title.
"Terrelle called me at 5, just after the game ended," explained Nesser. "He asked me to open up the gym tomorrow at 12:30 (the next day) so he could shoot. That's the kind of commitment this kid has."
The Jeannette basketball team is off to a 16-4 start and No. 2 ranking (AA) behind Pryor's 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists a game. There was very little transition from football to basketball.
"Terrelle is simply amazing," Nesser said. "He missed one game because of the U.S. Army All-American Game. He won't miss any practice because of recruiting or trips. Nothing. He's just committed to his coaches, teammates and himself. That's just the kind of kid he is."
Wednesday is the first day football prospects can sign their letters of intent. There will be more than enough time for Pryor to make his visits and ultimately his decision if he chooses to wait beyond Wednesday.
"I want to make sure I am comfortable with coaches, have trust with the coaches, and I want to play for a coach that is playing for championships, whether its conference championships, big bowl games or national championships," Pryor said.
"Personally, I would like to win Heisman Trophy and go to the NFL. If the NBA worked out that would be great. But I really don't know how hard it would be to do both."
It gets harder every year as players in all sports just get better and better. As Telep sees is, things are becoming more specialized.
"Be the best you can be at one sport and go do your thing. Specialize. You have to specialize. It's only 10 years but its different today and harder for Pryor than it was for Curry," Telep said.
Not many have excelled in two sports at the highest level. Former baseball great Dave Winfield was also drafted in the NBA and NFL. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were both sensational NFL football players that played professional baseball at the Major League level for years. Jim Brown, whom many consider the greatest NFL football player ever, also is considered the greatest lacrosse player ever.
To make matters even more difficult, Pryor wants to accomplish this feat while playing the hardest position in all of sports – quarterback.
"It will be a huge challenge to Terrelle," Nesser said. "To be a big time quarterback in D-1 or the NFL really requires a 12 month commitment."
"Normally, you would think of a quarterback and that they can never miss a rep," Lichtenfels said. "But I wouldn't sell Terrelle Pryor short. The more people that say he can't do it (play both sports) the more he will look at it as a challenge that he can do it. Pryor believes he can do anything. Terrelle will just have to figure it out on his own but I would never, ever doubt that kid. Never."
Note – Bob Lichtenfels, Dave Telep, Ben Sherman, and Buckeyesports.com contributed to this story.