Saints' biggest star? At one time it was receivers coach Ronald Curry

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METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees “absolutely” remembers Ronald Curry's heyday as one of the biggest high school stars of his era in the late 1990s.

“I remember seeing him in the McDonald’s dunk competition, like, ‘Oh my gosh, who is this guy?’” Brees said of Curry, who not only was the MVP of that McDonald’s all-star game but was also widely recognized as the national high school football player of the year after quarterbacking his Hampton High School team to three state titles in Virginia.

Michael Thomas also knew about Curry’s legendary high school exploits long before Curry became his mentor as a receivers coach with the New Orleans Saints over the past four years.

Thomas was a huge Allen Iverson fan growing up, so he has heard the tales about Iverson, Curry and Michael Vick tearing it up at neighboring schools in coastal Virginia. Curry was actually the most highly touted of all of them, a rare Parade All-American in both sports who went on to play both quarterback and point guard at North Carolina to middling success.

Other Saints such as Teddy Bridgewater and Cameron Jordan knew Curry as a receiver for the Oakland Raiders, with whom he carved out a decent seven-year career from 2002 to '08.

Still others admit that they had never actually heard of Curry, who joined the Saints staff as a quality control coach in 2016 before being shifted to assistant receivers coach in 2017 and promoted to receivers coach this season (a title Sean Payton said helped fend off interest from other teams).

“I didn’t know, I didn’t know,” running back Alvin Kamara said. “But I found out after the fact when I got here. And I know he’s the s---."

It’s kind of crazy to think someone who was a bigger high school star than Brees, Kamara, Thomas or Jordan is now operating almost incognito in his second career.

But it’s also impressive to see Curry’s willingness to grind from the ground up, spending three years as head football coach and athletic director at Mooresville Christian Academy in North Carolina before landing an entry-level NFL job on Jim Harbaugh’s staff with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013.

“The thing is, you always start at the bottom. Before anyone knew Ronald Curry, I was still Ronald Curry -- just nobody knew about me. So it was the same grind,” said Curry, who turned 40 in May and has aspirations to become a quarterbacks coach, coordinator and possibly head coach. “I’ve always had the mindset of work hard, control what you can control, and you always write your own story. And I’ve always prepared that way, even when I was the star. That stuff never changed my approach.

“And for me, this is just the beginning of a long career.”

Curry said he always knew he wanted to get into coaching because he liked teaching and mentoring kids. But he wasn’t really seeking an NFL job until Harbaugh -- his former position coach with the Raiders -- asked him to help mentor another college quarterback whom they were thinking of transitioning to wide receiver, B.J. Daniels.

In San Francisco, Curry worked under receivers coach John Morton. When Morton later went to work for the Saints, he brought Curry with him.

Now Curry works in tandem with veteran Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who was promoted to senior offensive assistant this year. There’s a bit of an odd-couple feel to them, given that Johnson is well-known for his vocal chops that can be heard across the practice fields.

“I’m more of an explainer. But that’s what I’m really learning most is just when to be vocal, when to really get on ‘em,” said Curry, who thinks his history as a quarterback is one of his greatest assets because he can see “the big picture.”

“Once you’re a quarterback, you always think that way. You can see it unfold,” he said.

Johnson praised Curry as “a super smart guy” with a “tremendous, tremendous brain.”

“He definitely should be a coordinator in this league, if not a head coach, because he understands the game from a different perspective, being in both football and basketball,” Johnson said. “I think the guy is a superstar waiting to happen.”

Curry’s players also say they appreciate the way he can relate to them as both a former receiver and, as Brees said, “somebody who has been in the spotlight.”

“The most challenging job that coaches have with players is the ability to relate,” Brees said. “So when you have a guy that’s been there, done that, I think that’s a good thing.”

“Sometimes you hear, ‘Oh, he played. That makes him a better coach.’ But it doesn’t always," receiver Austin Carr said. "I’ve had former players coach that are not great coaches. R.C. knows the grind. I think he knows the X's and O's. And he knows how to 'custom coach' a player.

“His ability to customize his points and tips for us is really good. He’s also very detailed -- and that’s something that can’t be overlooked.”

The one thing Curry hasn’t been able to do, unfortunately, is school his players on the basketball court. Sadly, he admitted that he was never a great 3-point shooter. And as Jordan was quick to remind with some friendly trash talk, Curry was cold on a day when he lost a 3-point shooting contest a couple years ago (he thinks former QB Luke McCown beat him).

“I was a scorer. I never claimed to be a shooter. But I claimed to get the ball in the bucket,” said Curry, who said he doesn’t boast too much when the topic turns to basketball -- as it often does in NFL locker rooms. “I just say, ‘Google it.’ I got that hardware to back it up.”