The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
Darius Curry wears number one for a reason.
The junior Long Beach Poly quarterback is the one who stayed, the rare elite high school QB who’s embraced competition not once but twice. He’s the one leading the Jackrabbits as they’ve gotten off to a 1-0 start and prepare to face Serra tonight in a televised game at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. And maybe more importantly, he’s the one his teammates have rallied around to start the 2022 season.
“Darius?” said All-American defensive back and LSU commit Daylen Austin when asked about his teammate. “Oh, he’s the one.”
Anyone who follows high school football knows the story. Superstar quarterback transfers in, QB who was already on the roster transfers out. It happens dozens of times every offseason, often multiple times at a single high school. But when highly-ranked Nico and Madden Iamaleava transferred into Poly last Spring, Curry said he never once thought about leaving 1600 Atlantic; when the Iamaleavas transferred back to Warren earlier this Summer, Curry was still there.
“Nico and Madden are my boys, I’ve been playing against Nico since I was younger, we’re always been cool,” he said. “In my mind I was like, shoot, me and Nico? We’re about to kill, we’re all going to shine.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t see all the chatter on social media, or hear it from those around him, that he should transfer to Serra or another school. But while those words might have gone into his ears, they were never what came out of his mouth.
“I just don’t believe in running from a situation if it gets hard,” he said. “Nothing will go your way if you do that–so you go with the flow and you work. I’ve never been afraid of competition. I just trusted my heart and in my heart I love this school and my teammates.”
His words are similar to those of Poly quarterback Shea Kuykendall, who led the Jackrabbits to the CIF-SS Division 4 championship last year. When Curry transferred to Poly as a sophomore last year, Kuykendall didn’t transfer out either, and said similar things about his teammates and school. Poly coaches were impressed in 2021 with the way Kuykendall and Curry got along and helped each other to improve, as opposed to becoming bitter or jealous.
“As a head coach you love those players that don’t shy away from competition,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “Since Darius has gotten here all he’s done is compete–he doesn’t have animosity towards anyone he just works on getting better. He told me that if he’s going to go play in college he knows there will be talent there he has to compete against too and he’s not afraid of that. He’s a hell of a competitor and I think you can see that the whole team has rallied around him.”
That much is obvious when watching a Poly practice or game. The Westside Long Beach native has been a well-known talent since his Pop Warner days, and his reputation carries weight as well as his talent. Of course, the on-field performance has helped too. In Curry’s first game as Poly’s full-time starter last week he went 23/30 for 363 yards and four touchdowns, to four different receivers.
He’s talented enough that it looked natural and easy. For those who were in attendance at Poly’s game against Millikan last year, Curry’s performance looked like a miracle.
Return From Injury
It was just one of those plays. Curry was midway through his sophomore season as Poly’s QB2 behind Kuykendall, but had been pushing with his excellent play to earn more playing time. His Hail Mary touchdown against Serra in his debut game was one of Poly’s biggest plays of the season to that point.
Against the Rams, Curry was running and tried to cut in the open field. His foot planted in the turf and the top of his body twisted; he went down and couldn’t get up. One of his teammates helped him off the field and got him to a bench. There, Poly’s team doctor told him he’d probably torn his ACL.
“I just stopped listening at that moment, my mind went totally blank,” he said.
Plenty of players would have spent the next couple of months feeling sorry for themselves. Curry got his ACL surgery and got back to work as quickly as possible, calling it a “mental offseason.” He charted Poly’s plays in-game with offensive coordinator Rene Medina, and asked Kuykendall questions about what he was seeing and decisions he was making after each Poly drive. He stayed engaged and focused on the sideline throughout games, and as a result said he has a complete mastery of Poly’s playbook coming into this year.
That being said, he said it hurt him deeply to watch his team win a championship while he was on the sideline.
“I was so happy to see them win the ‘Ship, but not being able to be on the field and to contribute was hard,” he said. “I was rehabbing three days a week, just thinking about being back out there with them.”
Right now, Curry has everything he wanted. The junior is healthy and back on the field with his team thanks to an intense rehab schedule that had him ready to go eight months after his ACL injury. He’s the unquestioned starter and leader of the Jackrabbits. And he’s got a boatload of scholarship offers to everywhere from Arizona State to Michigan to Georgia.
What means the most to him, though, is just being able to be on the field with his team.
“I stay true to my team, we whoop on each other every day at practice and we hang out all day at school,” he said. “They’re really my family–when one of us is going through something we’re all going through it. We’re going to stick together when we’re winning, or when things are tough. That’s what it’s all about to me.”