Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina – Saturday at 4 p.m. (Bobby Dodd Stadium)
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By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Flying around has always been what David Curry is about.
He’s been about it more than ever this season, starting during spring’s simulation and now during fall’s test flights of Georgia Tech’s new effort-based defense — his third different defense under his third defensive coordinator in three years.
But fear of flying has never entered the mind of the Buford, Ga., native. This is a guy who experienced flying of a different kind in high school, as a state-champion pole vaulter, who was somewhat self-taught.
“Pole vaulting is a very challenging and very odd sport, I will say that,” said the redshirt senior linebacker, who enters Saturday’s game against North Carolina as the Jackets’ leading tackler with 29 (the most through four games by a Jacket since P.J. Davis had 29 through the first four contests of the 2015 campaign). “It’s something that I can say, if I was ever just naturally good at, it would be pole vaulting. I actually didn’t have a coach until my 10th grade season. After my freshman year in high school, I decided to go get a really good coach and then that following year, I won state.”
So, a new defense, based on EFFORT? No problem.
“He’s fearless,” said first-year defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Andrew Thacker. “He’s the backbone of the linebacker room, if not the defense. He makes coaching easy. It’s just his ‘care factor.’ For an effort-based defense, you need dudes like that that have an unbelievably high ‘care factor’ to make you go. He’s the leader of that room and the other guys are coming along.
“If you had 1,000 David Currys, you’d be a pleased coach, probably have a lot more hair, a lot less grey hair,” Thacker added, with a laugh. “He’s just a consummate professional and he’s that way with every phase of his life. He is just an unbelievable model of being a Georgia Tech student-athlete. I can’t speak highly enough of him as a man. We’ve got a bunch of young men on our team. He’s a man. He’s become a man and he handles himself very well. It’s been really cool to see him be productive.”
Curry has led or tied for the lead in tackles in Tech’s past two games, including making a career-high 14 stops (6 solo) on Sept. 14 against The Citadel — double his previous career-high and the third-most by a Yellow Jacket in a game since 2005. In that game, he also had an interception and a sack.
The Jackets’ other linebackers have followed his lead. Led by Curry and sophomore Charlie Thomas, the linebacking corps accounts three of the top four and four of the top seven tacklers on the team.
Curry gives credit to Thacker and the coaching staff.
“It’s all about how it’s taught and these coaches have come in and made it so, so simple. They explain things very well,” he said. “When you’ve got a defense coordinator that’s as athletic as Coach Thacker, he can get out there and show you half the time better than you can do it. His energy and his enthusiasm about the game and about us really makes it easy to play for him.”
Thacker likes how the unit has played the role of “game disrupters,” pushing each other along the way.
“It’s a very competitive room,” Thacker said. “We’ve got five guys that have real snaps. Our advantage is the depth at that position. So we don’t see just one of those players playing every down and being the feature player. We can roll them in and out and they can play really, really, really, really hard on every snap within a game.”
Curry knows all about thriving in a competitive group. He was the second youngest of four siblings, raised in an extremely athletic and competitive family. His dad, Buddy, was a two-time All-Pro linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons and 1980 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Oldest brother Justin was drafted by MLB’s Cincinnati Reds. Older brother Jess played football at Auburn and Delaware, and sister, Gabby — who David says is the best athlete among the siblings — is in her junior year at Kentucky, where she’s starting libero for the volleyball team and played over the summer with the U.S. National Team.
David is admittedly humbled by being called “the leader” of the linebacker room and is proud of leading by example on the field. Yet, ironically, his play and intangibles have become something of a double-edged sword for Thacker — albeit one the defensive coordinator may not completely mind.
“There have been so many critical situations where I just don’t feel like I can take him off [the field] as much as we try to ‘Above-the-Line’ chart it and as much as we try to roll people in and out,” he said. “The calming presence and the confident presence and the experience presence, he has to be the MIKE Linebacker, which is the emotional leader, the communication leader on the field and kind of the heart and soul of the defense. That would be the way that I would describe him.”
While Thacker wants people to notice how Curry is raising his teammates’ games, Curry wants people to notice how his teammates are raising his. That speaks volumes about the linebacking corps, of which Bruce Jordan-Swilling is a junior, Thomas and Quez Jackson are sophomores and Demetrius Knight is a true freshman.
“I’m still fairly new to being a linebacker,” said Curry, who was an all-state safety while helping Buford High School to back-to-back-to-back state championships and a 58-2 career record, then played nickel his first year and a half at on The Flats. “You see these younger guys, who, in some people’s opinion, may not have ‘a linebacker’s body type’ — they may be a little too skinny, or whatever — but these guys come out and they play well and they’re developing.
“Charlie’s playmaking ability is just through the roof. He is so smart. His football IQ is unreal. Everybody calls me the leader of the defense, but I’m learning stuff from him every single day,” he added. “Bruce, he’s come a long way. Quez, he’s come a long way. Then D.K., for D.K. to be a freshman and already be getting some playing time, just to be able to wrap his head around a defense that early, shows the kind of guy and the kind of player that he is. It also goes back to how well these coaches coach the defense and are able to teach you.”
Curry and Thomas are the first pair of Georgia Tech teammates with at least 28 tackles apiece through four games since 2005 (Gerris Wilkinson, 34, Dawan Landry, 29) and their 29 and 28 tackles rank fifth and sixth, respectively, for the most stops by a Yellow Jacket through four games over the past 15 seasons.
But one of the most important facets of leadership Curry has learned from the entire coaching staff has less to do with X’s and O’s and more with people skills.
“Something I’ve learned since I’ve been here with Coach Collins is you have to be a different kind of leader to different kinds of people,” he said. “There’s certain people where you have to change your mood or your tone or the way that you go about things, to let’s say they’re not in the best mood or they don’t have a lot of energy, to try to get them to have a lot of energy, to try to match your energy. There are days where I don’t feel like I have the best energy. I have to look at myself and say, ‘How am I going to get these guys to have energy that I want them to have if I don’t have the same energy?’ So it’s days like that when I pick myself up and then try to get people to match that. It’s really not that hard. Everybody’s excited, everybody loves this team.”
Curry, who has already earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is currently pursuing a master’s in economics, is excited to continue to help mold Georgia Tech’s future linebackers for two more seasons.
“I had multiple younger linebackers coming in and watching film with me. If not watching film with me, they were constantly asking me questions, ‘What do I do on this?’ ‘Why would we do this?’” he said. “That’s one thing that as a leader, as an older guy in the program, that we’re trying to establish. These younger guys don’t have to go to the coach for everything. They can come to you and you should be able to teach them.
“When it’s an effort-based program, there’s such an emphasis on ‘everybody run to the ball’ and if not, you’re going to get ‘loafs,’” he added. “‘Loafs’ are taken very seriously. It all correlates with ‘Above the Line.’ If you’re not showing a lot of effort, if you’re not getting to the ball, you have a lot of ‘loafs,’ you’re not going to be Above the Line. Comparing it to other defenses, the difference is it’s not as much micromanaging you as a football player. It’s more they want you to use your athletic ability and be the playmaker that you are. They want to put you in the right defense and let you go be a ballplayer.
“[These last two seasons] are the last go-round,” he said. “I’ve got to make everything count if I want to do what I want to do.”