On this day, Curry in his shiny suit and million-dollar smile, it’s all joy as the Seahawks new No. 1 draft pick talks to reporters in his first visit to the team’s training facility, while his mom stands not 20 feet away.
But it hasn’t always been so bright. There was the time two summers ago when Chris Curry, a high school biology teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., found out she’d fallen too far behind in rent and was being evicted from their family’s rental home.
With three boys in college, finances for the single mom were strained to the breaking point.
“I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but everyone is basically one paycheck short of falling over the edge,” Chris Curry said. “That’s reality. For me, it was mostly just having three kids in college and being a single parent on a school teacher’s salary in North Carolina. That’s all. It’s hard, but you overcome it.”
She insisted her youngest son stay in school at Wake Forest and push on with his dream. It was a wise decision, one that will soon pay off with an NFL contract in the neighborhood of $60 million for six years.
Aaron Curry says the first thing he’ll do with his signing bonus is pay for the house his mom now lives in so she’ll never have to worry about bills again. For him, that summer eviction was a slap to the side of the head that continues ringing in his ears to this day.
He looks back on it as a defining moment in his life, one that he now appreciates for the perspective it provided.
“Our house was gone, just like that,” Curry said. “There was no debate, no waiting to see how long we could stay. It was just, ‘Get out now.’ In the blink of an eye we had nowhere to stay.
“I realized then not to take anything for granted. Because anything and everything can be taken away from you. It can be a house. It can be a car. It can be the game of football. It can be your degree. It’s just amazing how that happens. Once you realize that, that’s when you look at life differently. So everything I do now, I do with the same passion and emotion and work ethic that I play football with.”
He’s not embarrassed by the circumstance, just enlightened.
“Nothing negative came out of that situation. We didn’t have any place to stay, but that was short-term,” Curry said. “If I look back on it long-term, I benefited so much more from that situation than I lost. My mentality about life just changed ever since then.”
He moved in with a friend for a few months and took summer classes. His mom lived with a friend of hers and eventually found another house to rent.
Oldest brother Christopher, now 26, finished up his degree at North Carolina. Middle brother Brandon, 24, stopped attending school at Fayetteville State so he could work and help their mom pay the bills. Now that Aaron has a nice-paying job, Brandon is going back to finish his degree.
“We managed,” Aaron Curry says with pride.
Dad played in the NFL
Curry’s father is Reggie Pinkney, who played defensive back with the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts from 1977 to ’81. Curry downplays any role from his dad, saying “he wasn’t around when I was born and was not much of an influence on what I chose to do in life.”
He said he visited his father on court-ordered visits during his childhood, but didn’t have much contact again until Pinkney reached out to him in his senior year of high school.
“I knew he played pro ball, but it was never like I was doing this to be like my father,” Curry said. “I was always doing this for my mom and brothers.”
Tagging along and playing sports with those older brothers always made Aaron feel like the little guy fighting the bigger world. He followed that same pattern when he was lightly recruited as a 190-pounder out of high school, choosing Wake Forest over East Carolina, his only two options.
He used that as motivation the past four years.
“I wanted to punish every team in the ACC for not even coming by and saying hi,” he said. “Every game I brought the heat, but some teams got a little more.”
And now that he’s a big-time draft pick and soon-to-be millionaire? Where does the fire come from now?
“There are some chips still there from the doubters who said I couldn’t do it. There are still people who say I can’t play in the NFL,” he said. “All the sudden I’m not a pass rusher or I’m missing something. So that’s my chip. To prove everybody wrong. That the little kid from Fayetteville, N.C., that nobody wanted is living out his dream. And I’m just getting started.”
Finishing what they start
Curry draws deeply from his mother’s drive and humility. There’s a stubborn, down-home pride to this family. A deep-rooted sense of responsibility to finish what they start. Even if it means staying in school to get a degree instead of going into the NFL a year earlier, despite the need for cash.
Chris Curry said she’s not going to quit teaching now — “I’m not the retiring type,” she said — and her son isn’t surprised. That’s the same lesson she’s delivered to him for 23 years, through thick and thin.
When Aaron debated whether to leave school a year ago to take his shot at the NFL?
“I was going to let him make his own decision,” she said with a smile, “but at the end I was going to say no. Because it didn’t make any sense. Aaron has invested a lot of time academically at Wake Forest University and we don’t quit.
“If you haven’t finished school, how do you move on to the next major task in your life? I was letting him go back and forth, but he knew when the final call was going to be made I was going to tell him no.”
Curry doesn’t argue the point.
“If I’d have told her I was going (pro) no matter what she said? I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “She wouldn’t have let it happen, just because of the importance of having an education, having that degree. And what Momma says goes. Believe that.”
He proudly calls himself a Momma’s boy, which sounds a bit odd coming from a 254-pound linebacker whose low voice sounds like that of Michael Clarke Duncan, the big actor who played John Coffey in “The Green Mile.”
Following in mom’s footsteps
The lessons learned from their life together have served Aaron Curry well. He doesn’t shy from that relationship, instead fostering it with pride and using her as an example for his own future.
“She’s a very humble person. It’s not going to be, ‘My son is in the NFL so I’m done,'” Curry said. “She enjoys teaching and doing it for the right cause. That’s where I get it. A lot of players get drafted and they’re done. They’ve reached their goal. My mentality is I’m just getting started. I’m a newborn in football again. I have to relearn it, turn my work ethic back on and fit in.”
He’ll do so in a new city, far across the country from North Carolina. He’s promised to have a room available at his Seattle home so his mom can always come stay. She’s privately making wedding plans for Aaron and his fiancee, even though they haven’t set a date.
But come fall, Chris Curry said she’ll stay home in Fayetteville, wanting to be there for her 4-year-old grandson when he starts kindergarten next year.
Don’t be surprised if her son upgrades her living situation with a permanent home, however. He remembers bouncing from place to place as a kid. He figures it’s time for his mom to settle down in comfort.
“Fayetteville is a tough place to grow up,” he said. “You could end in spots where you just don’t need to be. We stayed in some houses where I was afraid to answer the phone because you didn’t know what the news would be.
“Now, we’re going to be fine. She’s going to be fine. White picket fence, big backyard …”
He glanced over at his mom. This is his dream. This is their dream. Just one more thing to share in a life that suddenly reads more like a Hollywood script than an eviction notice on the door of a cheap rental home in Fayetteville, N.C.