Program Spotlight: Curtis Underwood
Oct. 10, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. -
Persistent. That's the one word that defines Curtis Underwood's football career at NC State. Now a fifth-year senior in 2011, that one word is paying off in a big way in his final season in Raleigh.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but (helping) the team is great,” said Underwood. “A lot of hard work is finally paying off.”
To say Underwood had to put in a lot of hard work to get where he is now would not be an overstatement. Underwood began playing the game of football at age 10, when his grandfather, Mark Thomas, would sneak him out to practice. Underwood’s mother did not want him playing football because she thought he wasn’t tough enough.
Thomas, however, thought otherwise. “He signed me up and just told me I couldn’t cry,” said Underwood. So began his football career.
As a high school athlete, Underwood, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., was one of the top running backs in the area. After he rushed for a school record 2,124 yards and 20 touchdowns at Lackawanna High School, his talent drew interest from many colleges across the county.
“When I started playing football, I was just playing for the love of the game,” said Underwood. “I got a look my freshman year, but didn’t really think about college until my junior year. After I got a couple letters, I realized playing in college was a possibility. That’s when I really started looking into it.”
Boston College was the most persistent at recruiting Underwood, so he agreed to take an official visit. Underwood’s bags were packed and he was ready to head down to Chestnut Hill when he received word that the visit had been cancelled.
While he was initially discouraged, Underwood didn’t have to wait long to find out that the reason his visit was cancelled was because head coach Tom O’Brien had left for NC State. Shortly after the transition, Underwood was brought down to Raleigh.
“I jumped off the plane and it was 60 degrees, and it was like 13 in Buffalo,” Underwood said. “I was like all right, check!” NC State won Underwood over, and he made his decision to sign with the Pack.
Underwood rushed for 200 yards his first two seasons at NC State, and then redshirted a year. In 2010, he was named a starter, but lost his position after not performing well.
“I didn’t hate the world,” Underwood said. “I stayed in good spirits around my teammates. I didn’t hold my head down.”
Even so, Underwood began to explore other options. “I knew that the program was going in the direction of Mustafa [Greene] and James [Washington], and it was going to be pretty hard to overcome that. I wanted to play my last year and had aspirations to play at the next level, so I was going to take my talents somewhere else,” said Underwood.
Underwood had his sights set on North Alabama after it became clear that he wouldn’t be in the top two spots on the depth chart, when he got a call from O’Brien asking him to return to the team.
“I was fixing to transfer out and got the phone call from Coach O’Brien,” said Underwood. “I didn’t have to think twice about it because I knew where I wanted to be. When I heard his voice, my heart dropped because I had been waiting for it.”
Greene had sustained a foot injury in spring practice, and NC State needed another running back. O’Brien wanted Underwood to be that guy, and he gladly accepted the offer.
“It led to a second chance that I never expected,” said Underwood. “Now, I look at every day, at every practice, like it’s my last one, my last chance. I want to do everything I can to make every play count.”
Underwood has certainly done a good job of making every play count this season. In the season-opener against Liberty, he rushed for 114 yards, exceeding his totals for the 2007 and 2010 seasons, and coming two yards short of matching the 116 yards he rushed for in 2008.
“I’m running with a purpose,” Underwood said. “When I’m out there, it’s just one speed. I just go hard at everything I do. When I’m down and tired I look back and think about how I wasn’t in this position last year, and that’s what gives me the extra boost.
“It feels great to be wanted a little bit and to not be on the scout team,” Underwood said. “I was the guy last year, but I gave it away. I’m just glad to have a second chance to go out and prove that I can actually do this. I’m the same guy I’ve always been, maybe just a little more mature.”
Underwood has high expectations for the team in the 2011 season.
For now though, “it’s one game at a time,” said Underwood. “If we can win each game once, we can make it there. We have to prepare as hard as we can for each of these games. As a team and as one of the seniors on the team, we have to go out there and practice hard. We know we can win.”
After he finishes playing for the Wolfpack, Underwood has aspirations to play at the next level. “I’m just persistent, I want to pursue football,” said Underwood.
A program management major, Underwood just needs to finish an internship this fall to complete his degree. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college,” said Underwood. “I know football is not forever, and I’m glad at the end of the day I will have an education and a degree, so that I can do anything I really want.” Persistence pays.
By Bona Jones