- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Antonio Curry’s world seemed to be crashing around him two years ago.

After spending three seasons playing football at West Alabama, Curry ran into academic issues during the spring of 2013 and dropped out of school.

It was during that same time his mother became ill and he returned to the family home in Bay Minette.

Curry later went to work in Meridian, Mississippi, but he still had the desire to play his final year of football.

He made up his mind if he could get back in school and get eligible to play he wanted to play for a familiar coach.

That coach was Bobby Wallace, for whom Curry played at West Alabama in 2010.

“I had a two-year layout and I wanted to finish up my final year,” Curry said. “Coach (Will) Hall left for West Georgia, so I wanted to come and finish my career with Coach Wallace.

“Coach Wallace has been really good to me. I walked on at West Alabama and played as a redshirt freshman. Before he left West Alabama he gave me a scholarship and I appreciate him for that. He’s just a great coach and mentor.”

While leaving one college to play for that school’s biggest rival is almost unheard of, Curry knew it had been done before. His good friend at West Alabama, Gabe Poe, did the same thing two years earlier.

Poe graduated from West Alabama and worked for a year before deciding to come back and play his final season. He made the move to UNA to play for Wallace and earned All-Gulf South Conference honors his senior season while leading the Lions to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

“Gabe and I met back in 2010 and he has been a great friend,” Curry said. “He’s been more of a mentor to me. He was working as a GA (graduate assistant) here in the spring of 2014 when I contacted him. I also knew Steven Figueroa, who was here then. They told me how good things were here, and of course I knew Coach Wallace well, so I decided to come here.”

Poe said nothing was guaranteed for his friend at the time. He told Curry if he took care of his business off the field things might work out for him with the Lions.

“I talked to Coach Wallace and he didn’t know at the time,” Poe said. “Everything had to be on a certain timetable and we had to make things happen at the right time, but it ended up working out to his benefit.

“I told Antonio, first of all, get your academics right, then football and everything would fall into place; that’s what he has been doing.”

Wallace said he was happy to give Curry another shot at football as well as a chance to finish his education.

Getting his grades up wasn’t the only obstacle Curry faced. Although he tried to stay in good shape, getting back in football shape after two years away wasn’t easy.

“It was rough getting back in football shape,” he said. “The conditioning tests we had to do were pretty tough, but I got through them.”

An outside linebacker at West Alabama, Curry was given a shot at middle linebacker when fall camp began at UNA. He admits being rusty but played well enough to earn the starting spot for the Lions’ season opener against Miles.

Curry finished with seven tackles against Miles, tying C.J. Jackson for the team lead. He led the Lions with seven total stops in a victory over Mississippi College and now tops the team with 14 total stops entering Saturday’s game against Florida Tech.

Poe expects his former teammate to be better the rest of the season.

“What people don’t understand is no matter how much you run it takes you a couple of games to get your wind back,” Poe said. “By the third game you’re back in game shape and your body is back where it needs to be.”

Curry, 24, has a few years on most of his teammates. He said he is trying to use his experience to help younger players, especially his backup, true freshman Mike McGhee, 18.

“The guys call me ‘old man’ around here,” Curry said. “It feels good to me because I know I can help the younger guys get to where I am mentally in the games.”

Seeing Curry playing his former position with the Lions is rewarding for Poe, who is in his first season as the defensive line coach. He said he is proud of Curry for coming back from the adversity he faced.

“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Poe said. “To bounce back the way he has and to show that resilience shows the type of character he has as a person.”

Wallace said it is gratifying to have a second player come from West Alabama to UNA, just to play for him again.

“I just think the world of Antonio. He walked on at West Alabama and earned a scholarship, and he’s done a great job here getting back in shape and helping our team. He is going to graduate in December, and I’m very proud of that.”

Curry is thankful to be back playing and to be playing for the coach who meant so much to him in his career. He said the struggles he went through in the past two years made him a better person.

“I learned a lot in those two years, so it wasn’t a bad thing,” he said. “It has been a great experience here at UNA. I’m very thankful to Coach Wallace and Coach (Chris) Willis for giving me an opportunity and I want to make the best of it.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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