Nov. 11, 2013
By Matt Bontorin, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
If anyone knows about adversity, it would be senior defender Wesley Curtis. After sustaining two severe broken foot injuries in his final two years of eligibility, it would have been easy for this McKinney, Texas native to call it a career. Instead, Curtis beat the odds, and returned to play just in time to help his team reclaim the `Big Bear Trophy' with a win against Michigan.
Curtis was as highly recruited as any after his impressive career at McKinney High School, where he served as captain and earned first team all-state honors as a senior. After graduating early, Curtis moved to Argentina where he trained for over a month with Los Estudants de Plata, a professional team in the Argentinian Premier Division.
"It was an eye-opening experience," said Curtis. "The players there were true professionals. It really shows you what it takes every day to play at a high level."
During his time in Argentina, Curtis not only developed his soccer skills but picked up valuable knowledge on the business of professional athletics.
"One thing that I learned down there was that soccer is as much a business as it is the actual game," Curtis said. "Growing up, you think everyone is there to just make your dreams come true when in reality they are looking to develop you into a great player so they can make money."
This harsh reality made it easier for Curtis and his parents to make the decision for him to come back to the United States and pursue an education.
"I had some opportunities to go and tryout with some other professional clubs at the time, but after talking with my parents, we made the decision that getting an education was most important," said Curtis.
This was great news for the Spartans, who were one of Curtis's last teams to recruit him. The Michigan State program quickly connected with Curtis during his visit to East Lansing.
"During my visit, MSU won 3-0 and I just kept thinking about how great the guys were on the team," Curtis said. "Another big thing for me was having the opportunity to win a starting position in my first year. Coach Damon told me that they could really use me and there was always an opportunity to get on the field right away if I was able to make an impact. The opportunity was good enough for me."
Curtis took the most of this opportunity and found his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2010 as he was thrown right into the fire in a tough road test against sixth-ranked Maryland.
"It was the craziest game I've been a part of at any level," said Curtis. "We were up 2-0 when Maryland scored a penalty shot to make it 2-1. Than in the last minute of the game there were three goals. They scored two to make it 3-2 than we tied it at 3 with almost no time left to send it into overtime. About five minutes into overtime, Domenic Barone won it for us on a head ball into the right corner of the net from a cross that seemed like it was a mile away. The bench cleared and ran onto the field in celebration. It was in front of six thousand people, which is the most people I've ever played in front of. That was my first game, so it just set the tone for everything."
Curtis quickly became the reliable defender the Spartans anticipated him to be and went on to start 12 games in 2010 and 16 games in 2011.
Coach Damon Rensing agreed that Curtis was a key component on the defense during this time.
"Wesley was a guy I could always count on," said Rensing. "He was steady, reliable and smart - all traits of a solid defender. You always knew what you were going to get out of him."
Right when Curtis was hitting the peak of his career in 2012, he sustained a foot injury that kept him out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season.
"I was really disappointed, especially because it was a long term injury," said Curtis. "I just tried to stay positive because at the end of the day it's about the team winning regardless if I'm on the field or not. You don't want to bring people down with you, instead you just try and do what you can from the bench and in the locker room."
Curtis made a strong recovery, but before the 2013 season was hampered by a hip injury and later found out that he in fact had a hip laberal tear.
"My hip was giving me problems and they thought I was going to have to have surgery on it," said Curtis. "I was possibly going to have to miss my senior season."
The day after Curtis was diagnosed with the hip injury he returned to practice to try and continue to fight through, but instead broke the same foot that he had broken the previous season. This once again sidelined Curtis for over four months. At this point, it was looking like the inevitable that Curtis's playing career was over with the Spartans. With hip problems, and a brake on the same foot twice, it would have been easy for Curtis to call it quits. Instead, he took it upon himself to be a better leader and teammate from the bench, while keeping the goal in mind to return to the field before the end of the season.
"I tried to be loud from the bench, talk to people on the side and let them know what I see," Curtis said. "You see different things when you're on the bench opposed to when you're on the field, so I did the best I could to help the guys out and support them in any way I can."
After months of rehab, Curtis made an improbable return to the pitch on Nov. 1, in Bloomington, Ind., to face the Hoosiers. The Spartans won this game in double overtime by a score of 3-2. Curtis played the following game against the fighting Irish of Notre Dame and hit his stride just in time for the annual battle for the `Big Bear Trophy' against in-state rival Michigan on Senior Day. Curtis not only started the game, but was a defensive standout in what was a 2-0 victory for the Spartans. Afterward, Curtis admitted it was an emotional game.
"This game is always such a big game and it's hard to keep your emotions behind you," he said. "Coach (Rensing) talked about taking that emotion and using it the right way and that's what I did today."
Curtis's rollercoaster career as a Spartan has made him appreciate the game even more. He also believes that he will be a better player and better person for it.
"Adversity is just a way to make you better." Cutis said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. If I could go back and prevent the broken foot and the hurt hip, I wouldn't because it's taught me so much."
Curtis has not only served as an inspiration with the soccer team, but has asserted himself in the classroom by earning a 3.52 GPA and earning Academic All Big-Ten honors.
"Damon told us that were on the team to make good grades first and play soccer second," said Curtis. "You have to honor that. If I were to give one piece of advice to incoming players it would be to just take in as much as you can from the older players and learn how they work, not just on the field but in the classroom. You have to learn how to follow, before you learn how to lead."
Before he pursues a long-term career after college, Curtis has made it clear that he first wants to join the military.
"I really want to join the military," said Curtis. "I've wanted to do it since I was sixteen years old."
This clear cut goal to fight for the country shows once again what a strong-willed and selfless person Curtis is.
"Wesley has been a warrior for us," said Rensing. "He's not just a great soccer player, but a great person and a great student as well. You can tell how much the rest of the team likes him after the way they've rallied around him after his injuries. He never seemed to get down after the injuries, instead he did what he could to keep on the other guys and do his part as a senior leader. He's a kid with extremely high character and someone we will certainly miss when he's gone."
Curtis also took the time to reflect on what his coach has meant to him.
"Damon see's the whole picture," Curtis said. "He understands that there are more important things than soccer, like family and health. I really appreciate that, and I know everyone else appreciates that as well. He's been really great to play for."
Curtis' strong will and perseverance is what will undoubtedly define him as a Spartan, but what won't be forgotten by his teammates and coaches is his fearlessness.
"He has proven to people that nothing will prevent him from reaching his goals," said Rensing. "He's not the tallest or fastest player, but that hasn't stopped him from competing against the biggest and fastest players in our league."
As seen by his Spartan career, Curtis will do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals, whatever they may be. In addition to his military aspirations, this Texan would also like to someday take the reigns as a bull rider.
"I actually like to do a lot of cowboy stuff on the side," said Curtis. "I don't portray myself as a cowboy, because that's a full time job but as soon as I'm done with everything I want to get into bull riding a little bit."
Curtis was asked what his family and friends thought of his plans.
"They just don't want me to get hurt," said Curtis. "I guess it makes sense (laughing)."