The son of a man with no hands, Brandon Cureton puts his two mitts to work on the football field as much as possible.
The Nation Ford senior is the Herald coverage area’s leading receiver through Week Six, but is making his impact felt on both sides of the ball as the Falcons’ top defensive back as well. He’s got seven receiving touchdowns and four defensive interceptions, and his father, Northwestern assistant football coach and mentor William “Q-Rock” Cureton, couldn’t be prouder.
“I do think about that,” said Q-Rock, who was born with a pair of malformed arms that have barely slowed him down. “All the hard work in the backyard paid off.”
Friday night, the younger Cureton will get his biggest stage of the season to show off the fruits of that hard work. Nation Ford (5-1, 2-0 Region 3) hosts South Pointe (4-2, 1-1) in another of a series of games that offer the fledgling Falcons the opportunity to show they can fly with the area’s big-time programs. Nation Ford started 5-1 last season, only to fade in a stretch that culminated with a sixth defeat in as many games to rival Fort Mill.
While Friday night offers Nation Ford another chance to ascend the slippery Region 3 ladder, the Falcons are trying to treat it like any other contest.
“We look at every game as an important game,” Nation Ford coach Michael Allen said earlier this week. “We’re not naïve enough to know it’s not a big football game for South Pointe and for us as well. So we’re just trying to get prepared day-by-day and put ourselves in position to come away with a win.”
Playing both sides of the ball and returning kicks and punts, Cureton will likely have a hand in the result against South Pointe. Intense offseason and weekend conditioning enables him to play in all three phases of the game.
He’s like those little black rubber pellets that pop up from beneath Nation Ford’s turf football surface: all over the field.
As a receiver, Cureton has 28 catches for 735 yards and seven touchdowns through six games. He’s averaging 26.3 yards per catch and has TD grabs of 34, 58, 25, 28, 37 and 56 yards. Cureton is listed on the roster as 6-foot, 150 pounds, but those may be generous measurements, or maybe he was soaking wet as his dad jokingly suggested.
Normal size hasn’t hurt Cureton’s productivity though; he has four games with over 100 receiving yards this season. As Allen said, “He’s a tremendous athlete and understands how to make the play happen for him.”
Cureton’s emergence has been critical for Nation Ford, which had to replace its top two receivers from last season, including A.K. McCoy, Cureton’s half brother. McCoy was a North-South selection last season for Nation Ford, topped 1,100 yards receiving, and paired with Dijuan Ussery to give “NaFo” one of the most dangerous pass-catching duos in the area.
With both of those guys gone this fall, a juicy opportunity rotated on a spit in front of Nation Ford players; Cureton grabbed the chance with both hands.
“I knew somebody would have to step up and I always wanted it to be me,” he said before Tuesday’s practice. “I knew coach Allen would put me there; I just make plays when the plays come.”
Cureton played some receiver as a sophomore, but was almost exclusively a defensive back as a junior. Twice this fall he’s caught touchdowns and interceptions in the same game, including two of each in a narrow win over Ridge View in Week Three. Playing at a high level on both sides of the ball gives Cureton a unique advantage, like straddling the two sides of a magic trick.
“I kind of know what the defensive backs are gonna do and then on the defensive side I know when a receiver is gonna run what route,” he said. “I just use both techniques to help me out on both sides of the ball.”
Fellow senior Riley Hilton leads the team in catches with 30, but averages closer to 10 yards per grab. Operating in the soft underbelly of opposing defenses, Hilton draws attention from safeties, which opens up the long ball for Cureton and sophomore Josh Shade, whose 14 catches have gone for 384 yards (27 yards per pop) and four touchdowns.
“We were thinking at the start of the year, ‘who’s gonna fill those spots?’ ” said Nation Ford quarterback Dalton Helms. “We had an open competition and Shade stepped up in the first game and we knew Brandon was gonna be there. We didn’t think he’d be playing this good, but it’s definitely helped us.”
Cureton isn’t blessed with statuesque size or double-take speed, but he understands the nuances and wrinkles of the sport in the way you would expect from someone who’s been around football all of his life. Q-Rock remembers Brandon and A.K., who both live with their mother Phaedra McCoy, scampering around District Three Stadium as ball boys for Northwestern. They would sprint on to the field in between plays to swap out footballs with the referees, and if Brandon couldn’t make it back to the Trojans sideline in time, he’d run to the other sideline, and then all the way back around the field.
Q-Rock mentored Cordarrelle Patterson, the former Trojans star now returning kicks in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, as well as a number of other standout Northwestern receivers like Jarrett Neely. There were footballs tossed in the backyard with former Rock Hill Bearcats and NFL player Gerald Dixon. High-level football was all around Brandon Cureton during his formative years.
“It’s just that football sense that really helps him, from being around the game” said Allen, who alluded to his own childhood as the son of former Fort Mill football coach Gus Allen. “It’s just a football sense.”
There’s another attribute.
“He’s got great hands,” said Helms. “Everything I throw his way, he catches.”
The thought made Cureton’s father chuckle at one of life’s weird ironies. His son Brandon takes advantage of his two hands; one for catching touchdowns, and one for interceptions.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T