Bret Curtis wears No. 51. Some high school athletes wear Nos. 23 or 34 or 77 or 18 or 32 because famous professionals wore them. If you have to be told that Dick Butkus once wore No. 51, you have never played football.
Curtis has been wearing that number since second grade.
"When I was playing with the Lombard Falcons youth football team, my dad showed me who Butkus was and I saw him on film. I wanted to be like him," said Glenbard South's 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior middle linebacker. "I used to be a defensive end but the coach moved me to linebacker as a sophomore. He thought I had athletic ability. I liked defensive end but I like linebacker more because I have more control over the game."
Like Butkus did.
Curtis is the Metro Suburban Conference's defensive player of the year. He is Glenbard South's leading tackler. He has recorded 11 sacks. He has interest from Illinois, LSU, South Carolina, Toledo, Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois. As a senior, he has straight A's in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. He wants to study aerospace engineering.
"He isn't a blue chipper," coach Jeremy Cordell said. "But he is a special kid, our leader, our catalyst. He works hard. He is very aggressive. The way he flies around the ball gets other kids excited."
Curtis' message to college recruiters? "I'm not looking for a Division I school or a chance to play in the NFL. I just want to play in college. I'm probably not the best athlete and I'm probably not that fast. But I'm a good pass rusher. I can hit, I like to get dirty, I'm good at stopping the run and I love the game. I'm just a football player," he said.
In his third year, Cordell has built a competitive program at the Glen Ellyn school. Last year's team was 2-3 and finished 7-4, losing to Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge in the second round of the playoff. This year's team also started 2-3 but has rallied to win its last four games in a row.
In last Friday's 41-28 victory at Rock Island, quarterback Alex Jeske completed 8 of 13 passes for 122 yards and running backs Justin Gjerazi and Zach Smith each rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Jack Curtis returned an interception for a touchdown.
"It was an exciting 2 12-hour bus trip home from Rock Island," Cordell said. "We beat a state-ranked team and we won convincingly in all three phases of the game. We're starting to get in a playoff mode."
On the way home, the coaches and players tried to figure out who their first-round opponent would be. They thought they would play Lake Forest. But the Raiders will meet St. Patrick at Hanson Stadium on Saturday night in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.
"Our motto is: take the next step. We want to go beyond where we went last year," Cordell said.
"Coach Cordell is bringing a new mindset to the team and we want to put Glenbard South on the map. We want to make it a football school. We want to establish our own identity," Bret Curtis said.
"He (Cordell) can make a difference. He had a rough time in his first year (4-5). He preached to the choir. But we took steps forward last year and got momentum going. I like the work he puts in, more than other coaches. He likes hard-nosed football.
"The defense has stepped up since last year. We have more speed. We like to fly around. At quarterback, Jeske has a great head on his shoulders and makes great decisions. We don't have a lot of Division I players and we aren't big but we have good athletes who do the job and like to play football."
On defense, Bret Curtis is surrounded by 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior linebacker Matt Loos and 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior lineman Darnell Barrett.
The offense, which has averaged 48.5 points in its last four games, features Jeske, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior; Gjerazi, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior; Loos at running back; Smith, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior; and 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior running back Clark Gary. Gjerazi has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last four games and Jeske has passed for over 1,300 yards.
"How do I explain averaging 48.5 points in our last four games? We haven't made any changes in the lineup or installed any new plays or come up with any gimmicks," Cordell said.
"Our offensive line has improved, our backs are doing a better job of seeing the holes and we're getting better as a football team. Our formula has been to get better as a team. Our kids have committed to the process. They want to get better."