Jess Curtis

Photo Courtesy of Sean McGraw Photos

By Doug Ireland, (Journal Sports) - CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY

While confirming a football coaching change a month ago, second-year Natchitoches Central High School principal Micah Coleman confidently said the Chiefs would find a transformational leader.

Mission accomplished.

NCHS will announce this afternoon that Jess Curtis, who has led Many High School to three small school state championships in the last nine seasons and three more state runner-up finishes, is taking over as the Chiefs’ football coach.

Natchitoches Parish school superintendent Dr. Grant Eloi and other administrators declined official comment, but sources in Natchitoches and around the Many program confirmed the move Wednesday evening. Also reported by the Shreveport-Bossier Journal, the hiring by NCHS will be confirmed by the school in a mid-afternoon social media announcement today following a Many High football team meeting.

Very few prep football coaches in the state have a resume’ as impressive as Curtis does.

He has built one of the state’s powerhouse programs at any level. His unbeaten Division III Non-Select state champions this fall dominated one of NCHS’s District 1-5A colleagues, Haughton, 35-3, in September, and in recent years the program has thrashed bigger schools such as North DeSoto and DeRidder.

The Tigers have won 10 straight district championships and are unbeaten in district play during that time, reaching the state playoffs every year and advancing at least to the state semifinals in all but one season.

Since taking over at his alma mater in 2010, after serving as defensive coordinator there, Curtis posted a 163-24 (.871) record in 13 years and made the playoffs every season. While Many was modestly successful when Curtis was named head coach, the Tigers hadn’t begun to approach the remarkable level of achievement they have since. Case in point: Curtis’ 2010 Many team was the No. 32 seed in a 32-team playoff bracket. That quickly skyrocketed.

Many reached the Class 2A state finals for the first time under Curtis in 2013, then won its first state championship the following season. The Tigers reached the playoff semifinals in 2016, 2017 and 2018, then lost in the 2019 state finals. They came back to win the 2020 2A championship, fell in the 2021 finals and beat Class 3A Union Parish last month to capture the Division III Non-Select state crown.

The Tigers are known for their physical style of play, aggressive defense and powerful running game. Curtis is a proponent of an immersive offseason strength and conditioning program, and has a large roster approaching 100 players, highly unusual at a Class 2A school. The Many powerlifting program has produced state champion lifters.

Also regarded as an exceptional history teacher, Curtis is the son of retired Sabine Parish businessman John T. Curtis. The coach’s nephew, Tackett Curtis, has been one of the nation’s top recruits in the Class of 2023 and recently signed with USC.

He is the latest in a string of Many players who have earned college scholarships.

The new NCHS coach is a Many native and played for the Tigers’ 1988 state finalist team.

He was offered an assistant coaching post when Brad Laird took over the Northwestern State program in 2018. A year later Curtis reportedly could not reach agreement with the prior NCHS administration and then-school board leaders to take the NCHS job. Eloi and Coleman were not in place then.

The school has just finished building a new athletic fieldhouse adjacent to the current football practice field, and has erected a grandstand and press box. There are plans to develop the facility into a home field, in lieu of playing home games at NSU’s Turpin Stadium, as has been done for decades.

Curtis takes over a program previously steered by former Byrd High School assistant James Wilkerson, who was released last month following a 3-7 season. Wilkerson guided the Chiefs to their best year this century in 2021, a 7-4 playoff run, including a 7-0 start until quarterback Brian Young was injured. Young was hurt again and missed the first half of the 2022 season.

Wilkerson’s release was made public in a Natchitoches Parish Journal story Dec. 7, with the NCHS principal declining to cite specifics for the decision while praising the former coach. Coleman also outlined what the school was seeking in its new coach.

“We appreciate everything Coach (Wilkerson) has done, and I think the world of him as a man, as a person. We just feel moving forward for the future of our football program, the best thing for us to do is to seek a new direction,” said Coleman.

“We want somebody who has a very strong vision for winning. Somebody who understands the importance of the community and the marriage to high school football in our community. Somebody who’s able to grow not just the program, but the relationship of our football program to the community,” said Coleman last month.

“We’re going to get the right guy, and we’re going to have a winning football program year in and year out. That promise I can make you,” he said.

The Chiefs’ football program has suffered through many losing seasons since its last sustained success in the late 1990s.

“Our kids are no different than what you find in highly-successful programs around the state. We’ve got to instill from a young age a culture and expectation of doing things the right way. There is the right coach out there who is going to help us create that kind of environment,” said Coleman in the Dec. 7 story.

“We’re talking about a long process, years and years. We’ve got to have a long-term vision in front of us to help determine what our short-term goals are. Obviously the first goal is to go find that coach who is going to be able to get that job done. I’m not prepared to say anything more than that, but I can promise he’s out there and we’re going to get him.”

That seems to be the case.

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