49ers Eagles Football

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry reacts to his tackle during an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

HE’S FINANCIALLY secure, he’s a new father, and he’s still playing for his boyhood favorite NFL team. He’s still a popular figure in oft-fickle Philadelphia, as he is among Marshall fans.

And now, defensive end Vinny Curry is playing on the biggest stage in American sports, the Super Bowl. I’m hard-pressed to think of anybody more deserving.

As Curry’s Eagles take on the New England Patriots, Marshall University fans will get to see one of the program’s all-time standouts. I can argue that Curry is the first Herd legend since Byron Leftwich.

OK, I should name Ahmad Bradshaw, Albert McClellan, Doug Legursky and the late Johnathan Goddard as honorable mention, at the very least. For instance, Bradshaw was The Thundering Herd’s best-ever running back and all MU players learn about Legursky’s weight-room feats.

Curry is in his sixth season in Philly — has it really been that long? — but it could have been the seventh. You may have long forgotten he was somehow a nonqualifier during his first year in Huntington, in 2007.

Then 19, the native of Neptune, New Jersey, was able to practice in the early days of preseason camp, as the NCAA reviewed his freshman eligibility status. When the decision finally came down, he was banished to the bleachers until the next year.

Before then, he was made available for interviews, and he was as poised, articulate and insightful as half the senior class, if not more. Players can’t snow beat writers on that — we know who is dumber than the goalposts, we know who is brilliant, and everything in between.

When he gained eligibility for the 2008 season, I asked Curry an unusual question: “How the hell were you a ‘prop?’”

His answer went along the lines of, “I don’t know. Everybody back home was.”

By then, he was still developing at 249 pounds (he was listed at 6-foot-5; the Eagles list him this season at 6-3, 279), already larger than most Herd defensive ends these days. I remember the one phrase teammates, including fellow end McClellan, kept saying about Curry: “He’s a beast.”

By his senior season of 2011, he was. He produced crazy stats: 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, eight quarterback hurries, seven forced fumbles, three blocked kicks and a safety. Of his 77 tackles, 44 were unassisted.

Let’s put this into perspective: In 2017, Marshall’s five ends tallied 38 unassisted tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Combined.

Oh, by the way, Curry was often double-teamed and “chipped” — sometimes on the same play!

He forever will be remembered for the 2011 game against Rice at Edwards Stadium, in which the Herd was doomed to defeat. Up 20-17, the Owls’ Sam McGuffie was headed for a first down when Curry tomahawk-smacked the ball away. When Monterius Lovett recovered at the Rice 23, the table was set for MU’s go-ahead touchdown.

As you may remember, Curry’s mother passed away. A loyal family man, nobody would have blamed him for missing the game — as it was, he did not practice that week.

But he played out of his mind, making nine tackles, four for loss, with 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He flipped the game and, in retrospect, the Herd’s 7-6 season. It was one of the finest performances I have seen from a Marshall defender.

That helped earn him a second-round pick — by his favorite team, which almost never happens. It didn’t surprise me in the least that he played well enough to eventually earn a $47 million contract, $23 million guaranteed, which runs through 2020.

This season, the Eagles are finally using him as he should be used: (a) he is starting and (b) he is generally lined up in a “wide nine” position, in which he positions himself well outside the offensive tackle, takes a four-point stance facing the quarterback and simply gets after it.

He has only three sacks, but that’s just fine. Typicallly, he funnels everything inside and leaves the quarterback vulnerable on a middle rush. If he gets far outside, he draws the tackle out of the play and a linebacker from the edge has a straight shot.

Fletcher Cox is having a great year at tackle. The Eagles are deep at end with Curry, Brandon Graham and Chris Long. They forced 31 turnovers in the regular season, three more in two playoff games.

Curry has more to play for these days — Noah Vincent Curry, who was born May 6. Curry has posted pictures to Facebook of his son sporting a green “75 1/2,” among other outfits.

He gives back freely, as evidenced by his drive to overhaul MU’s locker room. He also operates his Rush2Victory Foundation (vinnycurry.org), motivating economically challenged students, and is on the 4th and Inches Foundation team. He has held camps in Huntington the last three summers.

He is as easy to root for now as he was when he came to MU in 2007. Win or lose, he will be seen by 100 million-plus viewers across America and around the world, and very few can say that.

Personally, I hope he plants Tom Brady on his backside two or three times.

Doug Smock can be reached at dougsmock@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dougsmock, and read his Inside Marshall Sports blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/dougsmock.