100% Cotten

Dec. 10, 2008

by Stan Cotten

One of the first things that Jim Grobe noticed about Aaron Curry when recruiting him was his hands. "When he shook hands with you," explains Grobe, "he made you feel like a little kid - his hands were so big and powerful."

But when Curry was running around for Coach Mike Earwood at E.E. Smith High School in Fayetteville, his hands were bigger than his reputation. He was a tall, slender player who weighed "...maybe 200 pounds at best, soaking wet," according to Curry. But he could run.

And Steed Lobotzke couldn't keep his eyes off of him. The funny thing is that Lobo was actually looking at other players but kept coming back to Curry who was all over the field on every piece of film that Lobo saw.

"Coach Lobo said he wanted to let Coach Lambert see the films just to get his reaction," says Curry. It apparently didn't take Lambert very long. "Where has this guy been?" was Lambert's initial reaction according to Curry. Curry explains that Lambert was sure that Curry had to have about 30 scholarship offers. In reality, he had only one - East Carolina.

So Curry took the Deacs' offer, and just days after being named first team All-ACC Aaron Curry has now added the Dick Butkus Award to his mantle as the best linebacker in the nation. The whole nation - like all of it. The entire United States and all the linebackers therein.

And as nice as awards banquets are, Curry will never forget how he learned about the honor. Butkus came to Winston-Salem personally and surprised Curry with the trophy, a stunt that was two days in the making and carried out by members of the Wake Forest Media Relations staff, the football staff and contriving members of the media.

Local television sports personality Dave Goren was pretending to interview Curry as they walked along the wall that separates the Manchester Athletic Building on campus with the Deacs' practice fields. As Goren and Curry turn the corner of the building, Butkus interrupts the interview and asks Curry if he knew where the football office was - that he was looking for Aaron Curry. Butkus then asks Curry if he had ever heard of the Dick Butkus Award. At that point Curry began to realize something was up. Butkus then introduced himself and said he was there to give the award to Curry. Then Curry's family came out from hiding as did some of his teammates and coaches to share in the moment.

"To hear the stories about Dick Butkus, then to actually meet him in person and win this award is amazing," says Curry. "I haven't been paying much attention to any awards. I've just been out there playing. Coach Lambert has always told me to just play - play your game and do what you always do and everything else will take care of itself."

"He earned this award because if his individual play," adds Grobe. "But it couldn't have been awarded to a better team guy - a guy that cares more about his buddies than he does himself. I told Dick Butkus that the nice thing was that you not only picked a great linebacker but you also picked a great kid. He has all the intangibles, but he also has great character."

"They got the right guy," said Butkus, sitting in the Rovere Room of the Miller Center just moments before he was presented a cake to celebrate his 66th birthday. Butkus has gotten back the rights to the award that bears his name and is using the award now to raise money for charity and the I Play Clean campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of steroid use. NFL General managers and scouts are involved in selecting the Dick Butkus Award winner which only adds to its prestige.

Lobo, then Lambert and then Grobe saw it. "If these hands are any indication," Grobe remembers thinking, "this guy has some great potential." Will he be another Dick Butkus? Well, let's not get crazy - after all Butkus is in the NFL Hall of Fame, arguably the greatest linebacker to ever play. But Curry is on his way. And he's got the trophy - and the hands - to prove it.

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