Curry battles for Sierra’s starting spot
Folsom High’s Joe Curry threw more touchdowns last year than anyone else in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
His 53 scores accounted for more than the SFL’s second and third place finishers, combined (Del Oro’s Stone Smartt, 29, and Oak Ridge’s Marco Baldacchino, 23).
Folsom's offense was highly explosive, as suggested by the Bulldogs' 43.4 points per game average. There were times when Curry would trust his receivers to run underneath a throw and he'd just let it fly. The 6-foot, 175-pound quarterback would drop deep into the pocket, plant his feet and hurl the ball downfield, sometimes 53 yards or more through the air.
But the All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year from a year ago, who led Folsom to a 12-2 record by completing 265-of-391 passes for 3,875 yards and throwing just 7 interceptions all season, won’t be able to rely solely on the deep ball this fall.
Curry has joined the 2017 Sierra College football program with a different outlook.
“This is a new team, new season and I’ve got new expectations,” he admitted following one of his new team's practices. “I’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
Curry is one of four quarterbacks on the Wolverines' rosters this year, and he sits second on the depth chart. But the former Folsom standout will need to show his coaches he's outplayed the only sophomore signal caller on the roster to prove he deserves the starting spot.
“(Justus Spillner) is the only quarterback on the roster right now with collegiate-level playing time,” Sierra's head coach Ben Noonan pointed out. “He played significant time in big games … so there’s something to be said with guys who have that experience.”
Despite playing in five games and having all the physical traits of a collegiate quarterback, Spillner struggled at times. He completed 62 percent of his passes (42-of-67) for 428 yards, but had more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) and was eventually replaced.
This year, the starting job is Spillner’s to lose, but Curry isn’t too far behind.
“I’m second right now, but we’re still competing so we’ll see what happens — I feel like I’m close,” Curry admitted. “I just want to get on the field — that’s my goal right now, to compete for the starting job.”
The two quarterbacks have taken an even number of snaps throughout the spring and heading into preseason camp, but Spillner may start to get more if he can prove capable.
“(Justus) is a great player,” Curry acknowledged. “I just have to keep working hard and we’ll see what happens.”
As a true freshman, Curry is faced with the difficult task of learning the playbook quickly, while also finding out exactly what his coach wants and expects from him on the field.
“I feel like I’ve got it down now, but there’s still a few things I’m learning,” Curry said. “It took me the whole spring to learn it. I picked it up fairly quickly, but there were times when I forgot a few things. We were constantly adding to it, but now I’ve got it down.”
Curry, who ran the spread offense at Folsom, will operate in Noonan’s air raid attack at Sierra. Both systems feature the same shotgun-heavy formations that rely on quick reads from the quarterback.
“This offense has some of the same concepts I’ve been running, so I haven’t really changed that much,” Curry said of his throwing mechanics. “I came here because I liked Sierra’s offense a lot more. I was talking to the coaches over at American River (College), but I felt like this was a better fit for me.”
Even though Curry isn't as big, or tall as Spillner, Noonan knows what he brings to the table. The fourth-year coach says Curry can make all the throws and he's got great anticipation for receivers. Thanks to Curry's participation in Noonan's quarterback camps during the offseason, the two have become very familiar with each other.
“We put the ball in the air a lot, so it’s nice to have a guy who’s used to throwing the ball 50 or 60 times in a game,” Noonan explained. “If he makes an early mistake, he knows he’s going to throw it 48 more times. Most kids will get down on themselves, but not him. Joe is an incredible decision maker — 53 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions last year, I mean, that’s incredible.”
Curry didn't get a ton of varsity exposure until his senior year of high school, but he made the most of his opportunities. In his first start, he threw for 564 yards and six touchdowns to bear Coeur d'Alene of Idaho, 55-36, in a preseason game. Plus, he led the Bulldogs to the Division I final before falling to St. Mary's of Stockton.
"That was a big year for me; it really boosted my confidence," Curry admitted.
That experience gave him an early leg-up in the competition at Sierra.
“Going into the Spring Game, Joe was probably our number-one quarterback and Justus outperformed him a little bit,” Noonan added. “But right now, they’re right there — one and two.”
Beyond his physical skills, Curry must also has to find a way to lead a new group of teammates, some just as young and inexperienced at the collegiate level and others more experienced. Finding that common ground can be difficult.
“You’re playing with a lot of new guys, so it’s tough to lead right away,” Curry said. “You have to become one of them and show them that I’m a lead-by-example kind of guy.”
Curry is the latest star quarterback to come through Folsom High, following Dano Graves, Tanner Trosin and Jake Browning, and he's watched each of those guys closely, hoping to match their success.
“There’s big expectations, but those guys put in a lot of hard work and that shows,” Curry pointed out. “I just have to follow in their footsteps because they paved the way. I definitely look up to them, too.”
The Wolverines, who finished last out of 15 teams in Northern California with a 2-8 record last year, enter the season with renewed hope.
“This year’s Spring group was really fun to be around,” Noonan admitted. “And I feel like you’re always going to have a chance when you’re most talented guys are your hardest workers, and that was the case with this group.”
Curry is one of those talented guys, and his coaches have seen stellar progress from the freshman already.
Now, it comes down to making the most of his opportunities, the first of which will be on Thursday, Aug. 24 in a scrimmage against Shasta Community College.
“We’re really excited to have him — he was the Sac Bee Player of the Year in 2016 for a reason,” Noonan stated. “He earned it. So now he’s trying to earn the job here.”
Steven Wilson is a freelance writer who used to cover the Roseville and Granite Bay area for nearly three years with Gold Country Media.