De'Anthony Curtis has had his share of doubters over the years, even when his heart was always at Arkansas.
De'Anthony Curtis has played tailback, fullback, wide receiver and cornerback during his four years at Arkansas.
Perhaps that's because his time as a Razorback has never seemed to be easy.
Take a few minutes to talk to him, though. See the frequent smiles, hear him laugh and listen to him say time and again that there's no place he'd rather be than Fayetteville.
There's no doubting De'Anthony.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee found that out in the winter of 2008, when the Razorbacks' football coaches were a little uneasy about Curtis' oral commitment.
Curtis, one of the top running backs in the nation at Camden Fairview High School, had committed to the Razorbacks when Houston Nutt was the coach, but Nutt resigned right after the 2007 season.
New head coach Bobby Petrino quickly started maneuvering to keep the committed recruits, so McGee traveled to south Arkansas and visited the Curtis family.
When McGee arrived in Camden, it might have seemed like one of the Hogs’ fears was coming true.
Inside Curtis’ home sat Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy.
It didn't take Garrick McGee too long in 2008 to figure out Curtis was positive he wanted to be a Razorback.
McGee returned to his car, sat, and waited for Gundy to leave. And after finally getting to visit with the family, McGee, Curtis said Tuesday, started making a passionate pitch about how successful the Hogs would be with Curtis on the team.
“He was like, ‘We’re going to tear it up,’” Curtis said with a smile and a laugh, recalling the conversation with McGee well, but needing a couple of seconds to remember Gundy’s name.
Curtis’ father, Tony, put McGee’s mind at ease that night.
He said, ‘“Man, we are Razorbacks. We grew up here. We want to be Arkansas Razorbacks,’” McGee recalled Tuesday during his weekly news conference.
And De’Anthony Curtis, now a senior, said that desire to be a Razorback is the thing that has kept him at Arkansas these past couple of years – even as he’s been moved from tailback, to fullback, to receiver, to cornerback, and, once again, to running back.
“I grew up an Arkansas boy,” Curtis said. “I’m going to stay an Arkansas boy.”
It appears that he’s going to finish his Arkansas career as a running back, too. Curtis was moved back to the position after junior All-SEC tailback Knile Davis’ season-ending ankle injury on the eighth day of fall camp.
Curtis was listed as the second-team running back, behind junior Ronnie Wingo, when the Razorbacks released their depth chart Monday. Junior running back Dennis Johnson, who was expected to be the No. 2 back, has a hamstring injury.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson was part of the same 2008 recruiting class as Curtis, and says he's excited for him to be playing tailback again.
The 15th-ranked Hogs open the season Saturday at home against Missouri State, and Curtis will likely get his first carry since the 2009 season opener, which, appropriately enough, was also against Missouri State.
“I can’t wait,” Curtis said. “I want to know what’s going to happen. I want to know what I’m going to do.”
A long road
Curtis’ last carry as a Hog was his only run in that 2009 opener, a 3-yard gain in the fourth quarter of a 48-10 victory.
But his most memorable run happened in the seventh game of his freshman season, a crucial fumble at Kentucky. The Razorbacks led 20-7 with about five minutes left when Curtis turned it over, and the Wildcats went on to win 21-20.
McGee joked about that carry recently, saying the Hogs have forgiven Curtis.
“We still love him. We’re not holding that against him anymore,” McGee said.
Curtis, however, has had only three carries since then, and his career rushing totals add up to 24 carries for 79 yards. He was a tailback and fullback for a couple of years, worked some at cornerback during the 2010 Liberty Bowl practices, made two catches as a receiver last season, and moved to cornerback full-time last spring.
Coach Bobby Petrino has called Curtis the ultimate team player and "a pleasant surprise."
“You feel for him that he’s been all over the place really as far as his (position),” Arkansas junior quarterback Tyler Wilson said Monday, adding that he now felt “excited” for Curtis.
“Can’t wait to give him the ball in a game situation and see what he can do with it at running back,” Wilson said.
Is the Kentucky fumble still on Curtis’ mind? No, he said, pointing out that every running back fumbles at some point. He put that behind him, told himself he was a good player and moved forward.
He also said he isn’t concerned that he might fumble again.
“If you do that, that’s when you cough up the ball,” Curtis said. “So I’m just going out there to play full speed, and no hesitation. I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Like riding a bike
Petrino has called Curtis the ultimate team player and said he’s been a “pleasant surprise” by how quickly he's displayed an understanding of the offense.
Part of that is because Curtis was a running back for two years, of course. But when he was at cornerback, Curtis said he often caught himself “looking at the offense and trying to see (if) I remember the plays.”
“It’s been kind of easy,” he said.
There was some footwork he needed to adjust, and the option plays were a new wrinkle that came into the offense after he moved to receiver. But otherwise, he said his return to the position was like riding a bike.
“Yeah, it was this time. I didn’t have the training wheels on,” he said with a laugh.
Curtis, who's 5-9, tried to slim down some after he was moved to cornerback, getting as light as 207 pounds, but said he’s now back up to around “212, 215.” He also said he thinks his time at the other positions helped him become a better running back, making him quicker, stronger and more physical.
If he gets the ball in the red zone, he said there’s not going to be any cutting. He’s “going to try to bulldoze over ’em.”
“It’s just me and you, mano y mano. That’s how I’m practicing now, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on right now,” he said.
Make no mistake, Curtis is grateful to be playing running back again. He conceded that were some tough times during his transition to other positions, but when times were tough, he would “get on my knees and pray.”
“That helped a lot,” Curtis said. “We had a lot of talks, and He said, ‘Hey, just stick it out.’ Talking to my father, he said, ‘God’s got a plan for you. Just stick it out.’ I guess the path is right now.”
But Curtis, who's on pace to receive his bachelor's degree in December, said he never really considered playing for anyone but the Razorbacks.
“I didn’t never have a time that I was going to be leaving,” Curtis said. “I don’t know why everybody was thinking that. I was just, 'Hey, if it’s playing fullback, I’m going to play for Arkansas. If it’s playing cornerback, I’m going to play for Arkansas.' It didn’t matter. I was going to stick.
“I’m from Camden, Arkansas. I’m an Arkansas boy. I was raised in the country, the Arkansas country. Arkansas is the only place I know.”