Curtis, Cyclones on upward curve

By Allen LaMountain
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

   As a first-year starter, Ryan Curtis struggled early on with a fractured thumb and from inexperience. As he has worked his way back from injury, his talents have taken over, and his growth curve has seen him help the Elizabethton Cyclones to six straight wins and a spot in round two of the TSSAA 4-A playoffs.
   Curtis, who has passed for 1,109 yards -- including throwing for 92 yards in Betsy's 13-12 win over Cherokee -- has done so despite a very slow start to the season.
   "We all got off to a slow start this season," commented Curtis. "The offensive line, me, and everyone kind of did. The key was the offensive line coming together. They give me a lot of time, and with my hand healed, I have my touch back."
   That touch has led to some big plays for EHS in the second half of the season as the Cyclones have run the table after a 1-4 start. Curtis' 19 touchdown passes were tops in the conference and he has cut down drastically on turnovers.
   Curtis began to come into his own in week four against Sullivan South when he led a fourth quarter uprising that saw Betsy erase a 28-6 deficit.
   In that contest Curtis threw touchdown passes to Lester Bailey and Neal Wandell to tie the game at 28-28 with three minutes remaining.
   "We have some good weapons here in Lester, Walter and Neal," said Curtis. "Those guys have allowed us to open up the passing game and start having success throwing the ball."
   That success may have begun when head coach Tommy Jenkins decided it was time to change things up offensively and start using Curtis more as a straight drop-back passer than as a rollout type quarterback.
   "That helped me out a ton," said Curtis with a large smile. "I think we started doing that in the Sullivan South game, and I threw two touchdowns. After that game we opened it up in the passing game."
   Curtis also credits his brother Andy -- himself a standout Cyclone quarterback -- for his improvement throughout the season. "Andy helps me watch film and tells me what to look for against certain defenses. He had a lot of experience, and helped me learn to read the defense."
   Starting with Sullivan East and continuing through the Cherokee contest Curtis has thrown 15 scoring strikes and the Cyclones have averaged 37.5 points-per-game in the last six contests.
   Along with making a change in passing philosophy Coach Jenkins also shuffled the deck on the offensive line and the results have been a more explosive, multi-faceted offense.
   "Weston Peters has been a big offensive leader," Curtis said. "He's led the whole way, and guys like Clinton Arnold, big Marvin (Smith) and sophomore Jake Jenkins have done real well. Andrew Presnell had to move from center to tackle and he's done an outstanding job."
   The son of Mike and Kathy Curtis, Ryan's parents have been very supportive of their sons' athletic endeavors. In fact Mike Curtis has long been a weekly regular along the Cyclone sidelines shooting pictures of his sons in gridiron action.
   Not to say that Curtis is solely responsible for the Cyclone resurgence, not with players like Wandell, Jason Grace, Bailey and Walter Brown all figuring in the mix, but there's no denying that Curtis has taken the reins of the EHS offense and given it a boost.
   "Walter is definitely a go-to type of guy," said Curtis. "Whenever we need a big play, or we're in short yardage we look to give it to him and let him run."
   Also, the Cyclone defense has stepped up largely in the past five weeks but Curtis' passing abilities give the Cyclones an extra dimension that most high school teams on this level can't match.
   Curtis and the Cyclones will face their toughest challenge of the season on Friday, when they go to Bristol for a rematch with the Tennessee High Vikings, and Curtis for one couldn't be happier saying, "Our motivation is that we are 0-1 against them this year."
   And it doesn't get any bigger that that.