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January 18, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
They have one of the winningest coaches in high school football history and a trophy case that has long been overcrowded, but the players on River Ridge (La.) John Curtis still feel like they have to earn respect every year.
It is a class struggle of sorts.
"We hear about it every year when we win (the state title)," running back Tevin Horton said. "We will get rated among the top teams in the state and everyone will say it's only because we are in (Class) 2A.
"Trust me, we would love to play up, but we aren't allowed."
Horton, a 5-foot-10 190-pound soon-to-be-senior, ran the Patriots to state title No. 12 in the last 17 seasons - and No. 24 in its 42-year history. John Curtis checked in at No. 25 in final RivalsHigh 100 on the season and No. 1 in the state of Louisiana.
But Horton and teammate Terrence Alexander still hear the doubters.
Alexander, a rising junior cornerback, feels the frustration.
They pair was speaking in San Antonio, where they came earlier this month to compete in the U.S. Army National Combine. Each wanted to see how he compares to other top players in the country.
Alexander doesn't understand why his school still has to fight to prove itself, too.
"I am not sure what else we can do," he said. "We have played out-of-state; we keep winning in-state. We won titles in 4A; I don't know why people keep fueling us by saying what we can't do."
The school was dropped to a lower classification after a school re-organization - one Alexander said did not impact the team.
"They split the schools to an upper and a lower school and it cut our enrollment in half, even though it really didn't impact any of the high school grades just the younger kids," he said.
This season the Patriots bring back nearly 20 starters and are expected to have one of the school's best teams ever.
Horton and Alexander said the excitement is already building despite the team barely starting its offseason workouts.
"We are talented," Horton said. "The group of guys that will be in the senior and junior class moving up are really ready to take the next step. We think this is a special team and that we can get on the fast track."
If the team is to make a run at a national title it will be on the legs of Horton, who impressed at the event. He was named to the All-Combine second team as well as being one of the more physically intimidating players with an upper body that looked like he was wearing shoulder pads despite being in a cut-off shirt.
Horton said he is hearing from Mississippi State, Arkansas and Oklahoma State the most for his collegiate efforts, but he says that he hasn't given much thought to it at this point, focusing on his grades instead.
"My parents wanted me to go (to John Curtis) for the academics," he said. "I wanted to be there for football. Right now both are going really well."
The focus on education starts at the top of the school with J.T. Curtis serving as the football coach and headmaster of the school that his father started in 1962.
This past season, Curtis celebrated win No. 500. But he counts his victories by the lives he has changed.
"If the only thing I have done is win games," he said at the time, "if we were only keeping score on the field then all of this effort, money, time was not worth it.
"I hope that we were preparing good men. Preparing and developing them spiritually and morally, we did a lot of that on the football field but there is an added value to sports. It prepares you for the hard times."
Alexander said that having a coach - and mentor - like Curtis is blessing for him on the field and in the classroom.
"I went to the school in 7th grade," he said. "I didn't know much about it until they played Hoover [(Ala.) High] and I was sold. The football is so good and the focus on grades prepares us for our futures.
"Having a coach like Coach Curtis gives us all a boost of confidence. He has done so much and won so much we trust him all the time."
But make no mistake, the pair would love to show they are more than a small-school power.
The team is currently scheduled to play Class 4A Franklinton (La.) High and Class 5A Reserve (La.) East St. John in Week 1 and Week 3 of the season. But a source close to the program told RivalsHigh that the school is still looking for a major out-of-state game or two but has not had much luck finding willing opponents.
"I want to win 5A," Horton said. "People only talk about the big schools and I know we could play with them."
Alexander takes quality of play over quantity of students.
"We should be in 4A," he said. "There is more depth in that class and they play better football top to bottom."
Whether it is the highest level or Class 2A, the pair is poised to push Curtis forward.
"We can win it all," Horton said. "I think this group we have could beat anyone."