CALHOUN, Ga. - Landon Curtis thought he was prepared. Until, that is, he got in the huddle and realized a lot of people were counting on the new Calhoun quarterback.
Suddenly, three years of waiting his turn caught up to the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior. To make matters worse, perennial power Dalton was on the other sideline. The nerves were almost too much and led to a forgettable first half in which the offense did little and Curtis threw an interception.
But then he thought back a few months to the Class AA state championship baseball series with Cook County, a team loaded with stars such as Kaleb Cowart, the state's player of the year who would go on to be a first-round draft pick. Curtis, the Yellow Jackets' No. 3 pitching starter, had not started a game in the postseason, but there he was on the mound in game three, the title on the line.
Curtis pitched seven strong innings, allowing just two runs, as Calhoun won the championship. And with that memory, he was a different player as he took the field in the second half of the football season opener. He has thrown no more interceptions and the Yellow Jackets have rolled to an 11-0 record.
"That was the most nervous I have ever been," Curtis said of the baseball game, "that is, until the Dalton game, where there were more people and a bigger stage. But pitching in that game definitely helped me prepare for this. I've progressed a lot. I've matured and learned how to trust my line and not panic."
Curtis has thrown for 26 touchdowns and nearly 2,500 yards as Calhoun prepares to face Westminster (8-3) Friday at Phil Reeve Stadium. He likely will be the fifth consecutive Calhoun quarterback to earn all-state honors.
"The first half against Dalton was the worst half of his career," coach Hal Lamb recalled with a laugh after Curtis shredded Manchester for 315 yards and four touchdowns last Friday. "Nothing fazes him. He stands real tall in the pocket, and once he makes his read he delivers it quickly.
"His leadership is a key for us. He's a calm, very poised and mature kid, and I think this offense feeds off that."
That maturity showed before last season when Nash Nance, now at Tennessee, earned the starting quarterbackjob after transferring in. Curtis, who was in competition for the job, never thought about finding a different school or quitting.
"Ever since I was in elementary school I told my parents I wanted to be a Yellow Jacket," he said. "It's been a dream to play quarterback at Calhoun. It's amazing how much hype you get at Calhoun playing football. It's like nowhere else around. it's been worth the wait big time."
Many thought the offense would struggle with Nance, star receiver Da'Rick Rogers and most of the starting linemen graduated. However, with Curtis, senior tailback Dustin Christian and an unheralded yet productive receiving corps, the Jackets lead Georgia Class AA teams with 44 points per game.
Lamb, who had to deal with the quarterback controversy for most of last season, often uses his quarterback as an example of a team leader.
"He's a team player," Lamb said. "He's special to us because he waited his turn. That's part of growing up and being a high school football player. What a year he's having, and what a special kid he is for waiting. I bring that up all the time because he did stick it out, and now it's paying off for him and for us."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296.