HUNTINGTON — Vinny Curry is 6-feet-3, 266-pounds. He played four football seasons at Marshall, but it was the year prior to that he says may have been as crucial in his life’s development as any season played.
Ask him about coming to MU as an “academic non-qualifier” and his development from a “redshirt” year, and the NFL defensive end grabs the issue like it were, say, quarterbacks Eli Manning of the Giants or Tony Romo of the Cowboys.
“My experience at Marshall, coming there, everybody looks out for you,” Curry, the 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, said last Friday in a phone interview.
“If they see your potential, they’ll take a chance on you.
“They give you all of the resources you need. They work with you.
“It’s up to you to get it done.”
Curry, headed toward his second NFL season with the Philadelphia Eagles, was talking about his life at Marshall off the football field — his arrival at MU as an academic non-qualifier.
The Thundering Herd takes a limited number of those annually, usually about four in a football recruiting year.
Curry graduated in 4½ years.
His first year on campus was spent off the field, as non-qualifiers must pass 24 credit hours over two full-time semesters to be able to practice and play.
Just a couple of weekends ago, Curry was back in Huntington for the first time since his Pro Day workouts (March 2012) to accept the Ed Starling Award as the MU Male Student-Athlete of the Year Award for 2011-12.
He was introduced with senior softball pitcher Andi Williamson — the 2011-12 Dr. Dot Hicks Award winner for women’s sports — at the Herd’s basketball win over UCF on Feb. 2.
“It was great, especially the standing ovation at the game,” Curry said.
“It was just good to be back at a place I really love.”
There are plenty of Herd fans who continue to whine about the program’s reluctance to chase membership in the reconstituted Big East Conference, which soon will have a large majority of former C-USA members.
However, the Big East does not allow its schools to accept non-qualifiers.
So schools like East Carolina, Houston, Memphis and UCF — which have admitted N-Q’s — no longer can do so.
Does Marshall want to further cut into its recruiting pool, already limited by the lack of true Division I players annually in West Virginia high school football, and the Tri-State area in general?
A Houston can recruit within two hours of the city and still land any number of three and four star recruits.
The same is true of UCF in Florida, Memphis in the Mid-South area of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas and East Carolina in the Carolinas.
The few non-qualifiers and partial qualifiers that Marshall has admitted mostly have done well on the field and in the classroom.
Those players have become one of the underpinnings in the foundation of the program.
Many fans are not even aware of the starters who started their Marshall journey as non-qualifiers.
Think running back Kevin Grooms, the C-USA Freshman of the Year last football season.
Fellow running back Steward Butler and defensive linemen Steve Dillon and Ra’Shawde Myers were similar cases.
Defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel was a partial qualifier who waited, too.
From the 2013 recruiting class, linebacker Kent Tureen, defensive back Corey Tindal and defensive lineman Josh Brown will join the Herd this coming season after sitting out — Tindal and Turene for spring ball, Brown for August practices, since he didn’t start school until last fall.
Two of the January 2013 enrollees, receivers Deontay McManus and Angelo Jean-Felix, are likely to sit out this coming season.
Coach Doc Holliday estimates he will have two or three 2013 signees scheduled to arrive on campus this summer, practicing two weeks in August before having to persevere for a year without football.
In basketball, DeAndre Kane and Nigel Spikes have sat out a qualifying year in recent times, as point guard Kareem Canty is doing this season.
When asked about the practice of non-qualifiers, Holliday didn’t duck the issue when asked about recruiting potential “Props” — tagged that for the former proposed legislation, Proposition 48, which led to the current academic-qualifying system.
In fact, the fourth-year Herd coach tackled it aggressively when quizzed on National Signing Day.
“We try to do our homework more so on guys who possibly may not make it,” Holliday said of a philosophy allowing the Herd to gamble on prospects who may have committed to or signed with top 25 programs.
“We don’t do a lot of that, but we do some. That’s a great advantage for us.
“We’ve had great success with that.
“Vinny Curry is a perfect example.
“Vinny was honored as the Student-Athlete of the Year, and that carries a whole lot of weight for us when we’re going into homes, presenting that to kids in that situation, because Marshall provides them with an opportunity to get an education, which is the most important thing.”
Curry came to Marshall from New Jersey and said his first year “was the difficult part, because you go from being a top high school star to not playing at all.
“You’re going to class, going to tutoring all day. And in your mind, you’re there to play football.”
What Curry said happened to him, however, was he forged relationships and friendships with people like Tara Helton, director of the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program.
“I got to become friends with Mrs. Helton and people I might have never met otherwise, people in the HELP (Marshall’s Higher Education Learning Program) who worked with me, academic people, tutors.
“I’ll never forget those people and what they meant for me,” he said.
“I found out there’s a reason that when they say ‘student-athlete.
“The ‘student’ is first, because that’s why you’re there, really.
“And for me, when you’re sitting out, it just makes you more hungry to play so when you do get back out there, it’s great.
“And we were coming off 2-10 or something (3-9 in 2007) when I got the chance to play and in the back of your mind, you’re thinking you can be one of the Marshall greats.
“When people see how far you’ve come in academics and on the field, the way it’s a team, a community, it means a lot.
“I told people, when I made a speech, I came to Marshall as a boy, and I left as a grown man.”
Curry, along with classmates and fellow linemen Delvin Johnson and Brandon Bullock went through the non-qualifier experience together, the Eagles’ lineman said.
“We all graduated, and I was proud of those guys, too,” Curry said.
“If you want to do it, you can.”
Holliday lauded Dr. Stephen Kopp, the President of Marshall University, and Herd Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick “for giving us the ability” to take non-qualifiers.
“Those kids have done a really good job for us,” the Marshall coach said.
Yes, it is a boost to the program.
However, it’s also a boost to the athlete who may otherwise not have the opportunity to play his way into an NFL second-round draft pick, as Curry did at Marshall in the 2008-11 seasons.
“It bothers me a little bit what’s happened with all these rules out there with the NCAA and all that, because they’re taking opportunities away from the kids that need it most,” Holliday said.
“To deny a Vinny Curry a chance to get an education is a crime, because he showed he can get it done.
“He’ll be a great ambassador for this university and be very successful in life because of what Marshall provided him.
“So, in my mind, it’s a great opportunity.
“I love the opportunity to be able to go out and take three or four Vinny Currys a year and provide them with an opportunity to see them walk out of here four years down the road with a college degree.
“I probably, as a coach, get more satisfaction out of that than seeing him get drafted by the Eagles.”
And with those Eagles, Vinny Curry chose to represent Marshall by choosing No. 75 as his professional number, for those killed in the 1970 Marshall football crash — an ambassador for his school, the one who gave him a chance Curry used to play his way to a diploma with and into the NFL.