Mountain Pointe lineman Natrell Curtis didn’t like how he stacked up against the nation’s top recruits this summer, which has made him work even harder heading into the season.
By nature Natrell Curtis is a funny and lighthearted kid who just turned 17. By physics, he is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-3 and 340 pounds.
The two don’t always mix well.
There are times when he could be more serious when it comes to being in condition and more conscientious of his eating habits. He knows this and has heard it so much from others that he has almost developed a deaf ear to the advice.
The Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) senior has always been able to use his level of play along the interior line to defend himself. After all, there are several reasons why the No. 14 guard in the country according to 247Sports has scholarship offers from more than 20 schools, including Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, which is at the top of his list before taking official visits.
However, he found out this summer while attending the Rivals100 camp in Chicago that it is a little different lining up against someone of equal talent.
Curtis, who had a lingering ankle injury, was no longer locking up with undersized linemen from Mesa or Yuma. These were big-time recruits just like him.
He returned from the Windy City not only winded, but wounded.
“I was in that phase when you are lying to yourself about how good you are,” said Curtis, who is getting his weight down during camp. “I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared. I didn’t really want to go, but I did it anyway.”
It led to a rebirth of sorts for Curtis, who has developed into a leader by example this training camp and has shown the coaching staff, regardless of his size, he can play both ways as the left guard and defense tackle.
“He has been great,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “He is playing his way into shape and will probably lose 20 pounds or so, but he is a horse and has shown the ability to play on both sides without wearing down so far. It’s early, but so far everything has been good.
“I think what we are seeing is someone who got out of shape and got embarrassed a little bit.”
Curtis, who missed some time last week with an elbow issue, admits he is driven to make up for any ground he may have lost.
“I don’t try to compare myself to others,” said Curtis, who is related to former Pride great Izzy Marshall. “I want to dominate no matter who I am against. I was still beating them, but not in the fashion I wanted to.”
The chip on his shoulder probably doesn’t bode well for opponents this fall, starting Friday with nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in the Sollenberger Classic, and that’s what quarterback Antonio Hinojosa likes to hear.
“There is no one like Natrell,” Hinojosa said. “I’ve known he him since the eighth grade and he was huge back then, too. He is a fighter and he will fight for you until he’s dragged off the field. I know he will always be there to protect everyone on our team.
“He has two different personalities. Off the field, he is a blast, but on it he is nasty.”
Curtis, who had 45 tackles (23 solo) with four quarterback hurries and one fumble caused last year, is in his final year in a Pride uniform after four years of varsity action, although his freshmen season ended because of knee surgery.
He isn’t going to let his high school career end without putting his stamp on it.
“We are ready to eat,” he said, referring to the hunger level of the Pride. “We got so close last year before losing in the championship game. We were right there and didn’t like how it felt to walk off the field at the Cardinals’ stadium disappointed.
“That’s not happening again. We are coming back with the ring that matters this time.”
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.