By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
For all of the waiting, working, sweating and fretting that David Curry and Andrew Marshall have done for months and months, they wasted no time at all getting back into the business of football last Saturday with Georgia Tech.
After helping foot the bill in the Yellow Jackets’ 41-0 win over Alcorn State with no signs of the foot injuries that sidelined each of them for the 2017 season, they smiled so broadly as to almost forget their trails of travail.
On the very first play of the season, Curry, the inside linebacker, leveled Braves running back P.J. Simmons for no gain to trigger a three-and-out.
Some 90 seconds of game time later, Marshall fired out from right tackle, dropping an Alcorn State defender to launch a four-play, 68-yard scoring drive.
It was a good day to be in Bobby Dodd Stadium, which for both student-athletes had come to feel a little bit like an unreachable place.
There was no rehabilitation to worry about, so they just played, and loved it.
Curry even scored a touchdown on a 15-yard fumble recovery and return in the third quarter.
“Of course walking out on Saturday and going in there and making the first tackle . . . that just felt like ‘Welcome back to football,’ “ Curry recalled after finishing with four tackles. “I finally got to be back out there and show people what I can do, and that’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a freshman.”
Marshall’s seen plenty on The Flats while making the ACC academic honor roll in each of his four years to date, and he’s as well equipped as anyone to relate.
“It definitely felt good, and it was great to get that first win and celebrate in the end zone for the first time in 21 months was a lot of fun,” he said. “Running out on the field for the first time was a big deal, looking around, getting back in the huddle . . . It was like I’m finally back doing this, so it was good.
“First play was good for me. I knocked a guy down, so a good start to the season.”
These young men toil on opposite sides of the scrimmage line and they’re a year apart in school and eligibility, yet they’ve led sort of led parallel lives.
They grew up a quick ride from one another, Marshall in Cumming, where he graduated from West Forsyth High School, and Curry in Buford, which is just across the top of Lake Lanier.
Marshall played in 10 games as a freshman in 2014, all 12 games in ’15 as a backup center — and then 11 games, with nine starts at the tackle spots in ’16.
Curry redshirted as a freshman, played in 13 games in ’16 with a start against Vanderbilt.
Their paths merged in ’17, when each suffered a foot injury.
Marshall’s happened early in preseason camp (when he was projected as the starting right tackle), and it was hoped that he would mend in time to help that fall. He even returned to practice, only to suffer a setback.
Curry was competing to start or play a lot last summer when he also wrenched his foot, ending his ’17 season before it began.
He cranked it up again, and was rolling, before suffering a gruesome left thumb injury that ended his spring practice. With a new defensive scheme going in upon the hiring of coordinator Nate Woody, it was a terrible time to go down.
After the Jackets whipped the Braves last Saturday, after nose tackle Brandon Adams forced a fumble early in the third quarter that helped the Jackets push the lead to 34-0, Curry took a moment – just a moment – to let out an ‘Ah!’
“I would call it, I was on a ‘Bad Luck Train,’ for a little bit. I’d never been hurt before that, so I was kind of down in the dumps but I always thought, ‘I’m going to come back stronger than ever,’“ he said in describing his range of emotions.
“After I got my first few tackles, then I got the touchdown, I finally felt like, ‘I’m back. I’m back in my groove.’ It felt great. It feels good to be back out there with my brothers.”
Marshall’s most notable reflections came before the game, when he couldn’t help but think of how sick and tired he’d become at checking in every day with retired trainer Jay Shoop and his successor, Mark Smith.
“On the bus ride [to the game], I was thinking about all the hard work we’d gone through, and everybody who’d helped me. All my teammates, coaches, Mark and the medical staff, my family, friends that have kind of poured into me coming back,” Marshall said.
“It was a lot of work. A lot of work. A lot of rehab, a lot of work with the strength staff and things that I had to miss out on, but also extra stuff that I had to do in rehab that other guys didn’t have to do.”
Paul Johnson is not one to get mushy, yet the Tech head coach appreciates the gauntlet through which Marshall and Curry have traveled.
“Yeah, It’s great. [Curry] was really making progress before when he got hurt [thumb] and he’s got a lot of athletic ability, he’s got good speed, can run,” the coach said. “He was ‘Johnny on the spot’ there, and picked it up and scored . . . That was his first time playing in a long time.”
Marshall and Curry may have gone through moping periods, yet their teammates, families, coaches and Tech staff helped buoy their spirits, and maybe not always in the ways you might imagine.
Curry’s father, Buddy, played linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons in the early 1980s and he’s been there and done that. So he helped set David straight with a form of hard love.
“I’d never been hurt before, and sitting out that year was kind of devastating . . . “ the younger Curry said. “Of course you want to lean on your loved ones but my dad has always told me ‘You pick this kind of sport and you can’t expect not to get hurt.’
“You never want to play fearful of getting hurt but that’s part of the sport. From day one, he’s [said] ‘I’m sorry, bud, but what are you going to do about it? Are you going to get down in the dumps, or are you going to go make straight A’s, or do the best you can do?”
That’s what Curry and Marshall did. And before they even played the first snap last Sunday, before they made their first plays, they were locked in and loving it.
“I’m out there jumping around, thinking I’m finally back. This feels good,” Curry recalled. “In the back of my mind, I’m ready for that first snap. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”