NEW ORLEANS — There is nothing particularly special about John Curtis Christian when you pull up to the campus, unless you count having a po'boy shop right across the street — which is, on second thought, actually pretty special.
At the Jefferson French Parish school, a hand-painted sign out front greets visitors. You drive between aluminum siding and brick buildings, until reaching an unmarked field of 100 yards or so, fenced in and surrounded by neighborhood homes on three sides.
Kids in school uniforms are running about, across the neatly manicured green field, but soon, one of the nation’s best high school football teams will take over.
It’s plain, and cozy.
“It’s like we tell the kids, it’s not about stuff,” says the school’s 65-year-old football patriarch and head coach, J.T. Curtis. “It’s about what you do with what you have.”
And here is what Curtis, who took over the program at the school his father founded in 1969 with eight players, has done: Won 506 games and lost just 54, made 36 straight playoff appearances and won 24 state championships.
As a result, an out-of-towner hanging around for the nationally televised matchup with the bay area’s own powerhouse, Plant High, might expect more.
Where is the statue of the coach who has won all those games and titles? Where were the proclamations of greatness, painted on the side of a massive field house? Where are all the Nike swooshes?
And where, oh where, is the football complex and stadium?
“We don’t have beautiful, modern facilities,” said Curtis, “but we have everything we need to be successful.”
They have family, and they have a plan, and Curtis is committed to both.
His brother, son-in-law, two sons and three nephews all coach with him. Brother Leon has been there 40 years, offensive line coach Mike Robertson 39 years.
In 1975, they implemented, then perfected, the veer and haven’t wavered in their offensive strategy.
“I know it sounds crazy,” he says, “but those are the facts.”
And they have this small patch of a practice field. John Curtis Christian, it turns out, doesn’t have a football stadium.
The school owns two of the homes in the neighborhood — they practically share their back yards with rusted blocking sleds -— and at one time had planned to buy up more, then build their own little field of dreams.
Then the flooding came, even before Katrina, and the clouds couldn’t dump enough water to touch this River Ridge community, which is a good 15 feet above sea level.
The rising waters, though, brought rising property values to the safer ridge. Plans to expand were shelved.
So they just rent those homes, to folks who won’t be too bothered by having a stray football or two bounce off their roofs.
“It’s in the rental agreement,” Curtis said, laughing.
Home, then, is where the game is. Sometimes at Muss Bertolino Park in Kenner, with bleachers that don’t rise much more than 10 or 12 rows, or Joe Yenni Stadium at East Jefferson High, which seats 8,000.
Sometimes it’s in Florida, Texas, Mississippi or Alabama, like the time the Patriots beat Hoover, No. 1 in the country at the time.
Friday, home is but a short 10-mile drive from their little slice of suburbia, where the Patriots will play the Panthers in the second annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic at the Superdome.
• • •
Friday is big public school (Plant) vs. small private school (John Curtis Christian), and some of the differences between the two are stark.
Others, not so much.
For all the differences in size (350 students to over 2,000 at Plant), these teams share a wealth of similarities.
Both have been wildly successful, both have been accused of recruiting but never found guilty — making them both feared and reviled — both have coaches who are practically local celebrities and staffs that are highly regarded.
And both win.
In the past six years, since the Plant era of excellence officially kicked off with the 2006 state championship, the Panthers are 81-6, while the Patriots are 79-6. They have both won four championships in that span, and both have been runnerup (JCC twice).
On the field, both boast teams expecting to again contend for state championships.
Plant is breaking in new quarterback Aaron Banks, and the offense is still a work in progress but managed 18 points to beat Jesuit last week.
The defense is led by linebacker Mitchell Wright and safety Paris Bostick, and as a group the unit is top-notch and hard-hitting.
The Patriots, one of those teams that rule an area in southern Louisiana where private schools are king, return 18 starters, including Class 2A player of the year Duke Riley.
The vaunted veer offense produced four runners with more than 650 yards last season, including 1,239 by Sherman Badie.
There are those who say this group could be as good as the 2006 group that beat Hoover. Led by New York Jet Joe McKnight, the Patriots finished second in the country that year.
We’ll see Friday.
“Plant’s a really good team,” Curtis said. “I don’t think there are a lot of secrets. Plant might have a play or two we haven’t seen, but if we’re coaching them right our kids should react. That’s what makes this thing so much fun and so intriguing. It’s exciting and challenging.”
Plant vs. John Curtis Christian
When: 9:30 Friday
Where: Superdome, New Orleans
TV: Sun Sports
Patriots vs. Panthers
Fun facts about JCC and Plant.
Overall coaching record
Robert Weiner 93-17
J.T. Curtis 506-54-6
2011 -- 15-0*
2010 -- 13-2 runnerup
2009 -- 13-1*
2008 -- 14-1*
2007 -- 11-2
2006 -- 15-0*
2011 -- 14-0*
2010 -- 12-2 runnerup
2009 -- 13-1 runnerup
2008 -- 14-1*
2007 -- 12-2*
2006 -- 14-0*
Coach Year Record
Weiner 2004 3-7
Curtis 1969 0-10
Current Division I recruits
S Paris Bostick Georgia commit
OL Richy Klepal FSU commit
LB Mitchell Wright USF commit
RB Wesley Bullock Offers from Bowling Green, Ball State, Toledo, others
WR Tristan Cooper Offers from Iowa State, East Carolina, others
RB Sherman Badie Offers from Memphis, Minnesota, Tulane
CB Richard Allen Tulane commit
LB Duke Riley Offers from Arizona, Mississippi, Mississippi State, TCU, others
OL Brandon Godfrey Tulane commit
RB Brandon Porter San Diego State commit
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com