by John Miller
photography by Jeremy Petrick Photrography
Rothsay running back Wyatt Curtis knew he loved football since he began playing it with his friends as a child.
What Curtis didn’t know was that he would someday rush for over 400 yards in a single game to set a school record.
Curtis’ record-setting performance came in 2016 against Underwood, which defeated Rothsay 71-12 the previous year. The Rockets ultimately went undefeated in the regular season, finishing 8-0. Curtis totaled 406 yards for the game, making it No. 13 on the list of best rushing performances in state history.
“It felt good to beat them after losing to them last season. We showed up and let them have it,” Curtis said.
After taking his first carry to the end zone for a touchdown, Curtis felt this game was going to be special.
“I didn’t get a carry in the first few plays we ran,” Curtis said. “I ran my first touch in for a touchdown and knew I was going to have a big game after that. I kept making plays when I was fed the ball, so I figured I probably had 250 or 270 yards, but was surprised when I wound up with over 400.”
Curtis finished the game with 16 carries for 406 yards and five touchdowns, helping the Tigers defeat Underwood 36-20. His 16 touches were one of the lowest totals Curtis had in a game all season, but Rothsay football coach Josh Nordick said he stepped up every time the team needed a big play.
Breaking off big plays was not always a common occurrence for Curtis, according to Nordick.
“He’s had the ability since he was a freshman, but would get caught and tackled from behind,” Nordick said. “He’s worked hard in our offseason training drills to develop his skills and improve his quickness, now he breaks more big runs.”
Nordick pointed out that having a dangerous running back like Curtis can open up the offense due to the attention he draws from opposing defenses. Curtis can do more than just run the ball on offense. At times he will use his versatility to line up as a receiver or catch passes out of the backfield.
“Defenses focus on him and will even more this coming year,” Nordick said. “He can’t carry the ball every play, so we use him in different spots. He can catch the ball and we like to utilize that and allow him to get in open space.”
Rothsay’s football program is being rejuvenated by athletes like Curtis, who says he hopes to see continuous improvements on the team for years to come.
“It feels good to help the program improve,” Curtis said. “I want to keep the program growing. I hope that when kids see what I’m doing that will motivate them to start playing football while they’re young and help the program grow in the future.”
Nordick said he’s never questioned Curtis’ commitment to the program. He’s confident his time with the team has inspired younger kids in the community to be a member of the Tigers’ football team in the future by having in-game success and portraying a positive image on and off the field.
“It’s nice because he’s really coachable,” Nordick said. “It’s been good developing a system around his strengths to help the team. Wyatt is the team’s soft-spoken leader. He always does what is asked of him, and does it well. He never second-guesses what we are doing and gets guys to train with him off the field in the weight room.”
Curtis said that the team’s performance during games reflects how they practiced in the days prior. As a team captain, he practices hard and hopes his team follows suit.
“Sometimes I have to get on people,” Curtis said. “One of my responsibilities as a team captain is to ensure that as a team we’re motivated and ready to play.”
On top of being a good athlete, an asset Curtis brings to the team is his work ethic, something he said was inherited from his father.
“My dad is a big role model to me, he’s a very hard worker,” Curtis said. “He helped me get into football when I was younger and was my coach in fifth through eighth grade.”
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch are two professional athletes Curtis looks up to as role models. He admires Westbrook because of his attitude on the court and the tenacious effort he plays with. Curtis related himself to Westbrook by comparing how hard they work and their similar intensity levels.
Lynch is someone Curtis admires because of his powerful running style. Curtis said if he has to, he can run through people like Lynch does, but relies more on using his speed to get around tacklers.
Curtis said he wants to improve his speed and agility, but a major focus for him this offseason will be to participate in a weight-training program to bulk up in preparation for his senior campaign. He will also participate in a weekly basketball league and football camps this summer to stay in shape.
According to Curtis, Rothsay will be competitive with many teams. A goal he wants to achieve as a team is making the playoffs and being in position to win a playoff game, something that will require cohesive team effort.
“Everybody has to want it,” Curtis said. “We have to be ready to play and have full commitment from everyone on the team.”
Despite being a small school, Nordick is confident in his team’s ability to prove that football goes beyond numbers.
“We’re the second-smallest school in the state with a football program,” Nordick said. “We want to show bigger schools it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about how you play the game. If we continue to play our way and grow as a team, we can definitely compete for a section championship.”
Nordick and Curtis both want to see the team succeed in terms of wins; however, more than anything Nordick wants to see continued improvement in the team’s atmosphere. To them, the game is more than just wins and losses, it’s about playing the game their way with the right attitude.
“We might not win every game, but we can always win the battle,” Nordick said. “Wyatt does a good job of buying into that. We could have a great program if everyone had his attitude and his character. He understands it’s not necessarily the athletic ability that defines an athlete, rather practicing every play and never taking a play off during the game. That’s hard to teach.”
Last season, Rothsay finished with an overall record of 3-6, a one game improvement from their 2-7 campaign in 2015. Winning games is ideal, but above all, Nordick wants to see continued improvements in the team’s culture.
“We want to build on what we’ve done the last two years,” Nordick said. “We want to maintain an image of building a positive culture and environment.”
Life after high school is unclear for Curtis, but he said he would love to play football at the collegiate level if he has the opportunity.
If Curtis does proceed to play at the next level, his college coach can rest assured knowing he has a running back that will work immensely towards the team’s goal.