The first time Charlotte Country Day football coach Drew Witman saw Aaron Curry coach, Curry had come over as a volunteer last fall, a few days before Witman's team was going to play rival Charlotte Catholic.
"I saw him coach one minute," Witman said, "and I said, 'This guy is special.'"
You may remember Curry. He was a Shrine Bowl player at Fayetteville Smith High School. Only considered a two-star recruit coming out of high school, he went to Wake Forest and became the nation's best linebacker in 2008, making All-ACC at Wake Forest for the third straight season.
In 2009, Seattle drafted Curry with the No. 4 pick overall and rewarded him with a six-year contract worth up to $60 million. The contract included a $34 million guarantee.
In the past 18 years, just three linebackers have gone that high in the draft: Curry, LaVar Arrington and Von Miller. While Arrington and Miller became stars, NFL All-Pros, Curry played four seasons with Seattle, the Oakland Raiders and the New York Giants before his career ended, mainly due to a lack of motivation.
Growing up poor, Curry wanted to sign a big contract to take care of his family and his future. Once he got it, he said the motivation to play waned.
As Curry told the Observer's Joe Person last year: “Ball didn’t matter.”
“I worked out. I ate what I was supposed to eat, took care of my body. I spent a lot of money taking care of my body,” he said. “But the football intelligence, the Xs-and-Os ... there came a point where it didn’t matter. I’d just go out there and ball.”
Curry spent two seasons as the Charlotte 49ers’ defensive line coach. He took a fellowship with the Carolina Panthers' staff in hopes of landing an NFL job. That didn't happen, and and Witman, the Country Day coach, was told by a friend on the Charlotte staff that Curry might be interested in working as a coach at the school where he has two young sons enrolled.
"He called me," Witman said, "and said, 'Hey, I'd love to help.' He came during Catholic week last year, and he came out a little late and hung out and walked around. Obviously his presence was felt physically but his energy is contagious."
When Country Day's defensive coordinator stepped down after the 2017 season, Witman said he spoke to Curry about the job.
Witman said he's elated that Curry decided to take it.
"He's one of the best human beings I've ever met," Witman said. "Everyone knows his playing career at Wake, and his being a high draft pick in the NFL, but he's a great person, first and foremost. That's what I love. The first day I watched him coach here as a volunteer, I was like, 'We've got to get him here.'"
Curry started last March and has been a constant on campus, something Witman hopes will be the case for years to come.
"I think what's great about him is that he really wanted to be in the NFL and he really wanted to be in college," Witman said. " and being here in a volunteer role has really opened his eyes to this high school level and the impact he has.
"The higher level you go, it's a little bit more of a business. Here, he has kids a little bit interested in football, a lot interested and kids where this is all they care about. But he'll take kids barely interested and he works with them every bit as much as kids that are. His energy, his enthusiasm — he's just fantastic."
Former Hough QB transfers from UCLA to App State
Former Hough High QB Jackson Gibbs has transferred from UCLA to Appalachian State.
Gibbs, a 6-1, 190-pound freshman, redshirted at UCLA last season. He will sit out the 2018 season to comply with NCAA transfer rules.
The grandson of former Washington coach Joe Gibbs, Jackson Gibbs was UCLA's fourth-string quarterback and would likely have dipped with the arrival of two heralded recruits this fall.
When he starts playing for the Mountaineers in the fall of 2019, he will be joined by his brother Miller, a senior at Hough High this season. Miller will be a preferred walk-on at Appalachian State next season.
Littlejohn returns to coach Mallard Creek track
After a two-year sabbatical, Donald Littlejohn is returning as Mallard Creek's head boys track coach.
Littlejohn led the Mavericks to a 2015 state championship. He is also the school's strength coach and is an assistant football coach on the Mavericks powerhouse 4A football team.
"I couldn't be more excited," Mallard Creek coach Phil Davanzo said. "I think he's going to do a phenomenal job. We missed having him. I'm excited to see his growth as a coach and have him take us back to the top."
▪ Mallard Creek volleyball coach David Brooks has resigned, Davanzo said.
Brooks' 81 career wins is a school record. In 2016, he led the Mavericks to a single-season school-record 24 wins and was named I-MECK conference coach of the year. Last season, Brooks led Mallard Creek to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A state tournament.
Stacey Webster will replace Brooks. She's been an assistant for four seasons.
▪ Hough High senior Ben Woodruff, who graduated last week, has qualified for the 71st U.S. Junior Amateur next month in New Jersey. Woodruff, a Charlotte 49ers recruit, shot a round of 66 to finish second in a qualifier in Salisbury this week.
▪ North Lincoln High has hired former Alexander Central and Newton Conover head coach Nick Bazzle as its new head football coach.
▪ Monroe's Central Academy has named Samuel Smithson as its new head boys basketball coach.
▪ Central Academy will not field a varsity football team this season. The school doesn't have enough players. It ended the season with fewer than 20 players in 2017. In the past two seasons, Central is 1-21. In the 2017 season, when it didn't win a game, Central was outscored 586-14.
▪ Three area teams were ranked in Top Drawer Soccer's national poll: No. 6 Charlotte Latin, the N.C. Independent School state champion; No. 30 Myers Park, the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A runners-up; and No. 37 Clover (S.C.), the S.C. 5A state semifinalist.
▪ Newton Foard's Abby Settlemyre has been named the 2018 N.C. Gatorade softball player of the year. Settlemyre led her team to a 20-4 record and a N.C. 2A quarterfinal appearance. A 4.62 GPA student, she hit .698 with 41 runs scored, 26 stolen bases and eight triples.