EDITOR’S NOTE: This continues a regular feature on DawgNation called “Throwback Thursday.” It offers the chance to revisit the recruiting stories of former UGA greats. The last few installments All-time punt returner Damien Gary, crowd favorite RB Musa Smith, all-time leading receiver Terrence Edwards, tackling machine Tony Gilbert and 1984 defensive team captain Donald Chumley. This week’s feature catches up one of the top linebackers of the Mark Richt era.
Rennie Curran was called “Meatball” by current UGA assistant Thomas Brown when they played together for the Bulldogs. He acquired several nicknames while at UGA.
His former linebackers coach Jon Jancek dubbed him “Barracuda.” Kris Durham, another UGA teammate, labeled him “Rock man.”
The best one would’ve just been “Bulldog.” The man was simply all Dawg.
Curran was 5 feet, 11 inches and 220 pounds back in 2006. He was a 4-star senior but knows he’d never see that ranking now.
“The things nobody could measure were my heart, my mind and my faith,” Curran said. “You can’t really put a label on that stuff. That’s what got me on the field at Georgia.”
They especially could not gauge a kid from Snellville, Ga., who was known for having a magnet in his head for the football at UGA. He led the team with 115 tackles in 2008 and again in 2009 with 130 stops. That’s despite not getting on the field until the fifth game of his freshman year. That came after the guy ahead of him on the depth chart blew an assignment. He was ready for his moment and never gave up his spot.
Why did he go to UGA? There was little drama to that.
“I grew up 45 minutes down the road in Snellville,” Curran said. “The same place David Greene and David Pollack grew up in and went on to star at UGA. My first college football game was at Georgia when I was 10 years old. That was my whole childhood dream, man. I was that guy who listened to Larry Munson after all of my Little League games and imagined I was the next kid from Snellville to become a household name at Georgia. To see that all come true was just awesome. That was the best thing that could have ever happened to me in the world, man.”
When he was in the stands as a recruit from Brookwood High School, he saw UGA take a game or two on the chin. But he refused to ponder if he’d have a more successful career playing anywhere else.
What he felt shows how committed he was to the G.
“When Georgia lost a game, it inspired me to want to change that,” Curran said. “I wanted to go play right then to make sure we didn’t lose again. It gave me a vision to provide change. It got me even more fired up about being a Dawg to know in the future I’d have a great influence on helping the team win a major game like that.”
He was passionate about UGA, but his dream school was slow to offer.
“I had let it be known that Georgia was pretty much the school I wanted to go to, but they were kind of slow on me because of my height,” Curran said. “Auburn had guys close to my size like Trey Blackmon (the former high school All-America linebacker from LaGrange, Ga.) who were fast. I was definitely leaning that way had Georgia not offered me.”
Curran had his Little League coach, Ronnie Benton, call up UGA assistant coach Mike Bobo and share the fact that if they didn’t offer the Brookwood standout soon, he was going to Auburn. Benton actually took him to his first UGA game.
Bobo asked for a little more time. The staff invited him to spring practice during his junior year and offered him that day. Curran wanted to commit on the spot, but reined those feelings in.
“I had a little bit of pride so I waited like a week later for the G-Day game,” Curran said. “I had that chip on my shoulder man. I knew from that whole time the recruiting process started all I heard about was my height. That’s why I wanted to go over and above everything. I’d kill myself in the weight room putting an extra 30 or 40 pounds on every time. On the field, I was making 20-plus tackles in a game. I felt like I deserved that respect regardless of my height. That’s why I had that pride. Why was Georgia looking at other linebackers when I’m right here down the street in Snellville and I loved the Dawgs?”
The first time he walked into UGA’s Butts-Mehre facility the first player he spotted was 6-foot-8 tight end Leonard Pope. The second was 6-foot-3, 340-pound lineman Max-Jean Gillies.
“I was like how in the world was I going to be able to play at the University of Georgia at my size,” Curran said. “Those were not the first two guys I needed to see.”
He overcame those fears with a deeply-rooted work ethic instilled in him by his parents. Rennie and Josie Curran came from Libera. Curran, 26, turned pro after three seasons at UGA and played two seasons in the NFL. This is his third season in the Canadian Football League. He’s currently playing for the BC Lions in Vancouver.
His parents are also the source of a great story during his recruitment.
His mother cooked some Liberian food for his in-home visit with the UGA coaches. His Dad also brought some habanero sauce to the table. It was packed with some of the most potent peppers on Earth. Bobo, Richt and Jancek were all at dinner.
“Coach Richt was like I want to try some of that stuff,” he said. “He wanted to try my Dad’s hot sauce.”
Bobo and Jancek urged him to pass. Richt usually opts for the field goal at times like that, but he went for the touchdown with the Chernobyl sauce.
“This was the type of stuff that makes you go straight to the bathroom,” Curran said. “They tried it. I thought those guys were all going to die in my house. Coach Richt turned red. Bobo did as well. They all started reaching for water. Coach Jancek, too. I was like these dudes are all in my house eating Liberian food. These were the guys you see on TV. It was all so surreal.”
Curran even authored a book in 2012 titled “Free Agent” that offered a window into the world of a young African-American athlete. The foreword was written by Mark Richt. It did not mention any near-death-experiences while eating Liberian food.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.