Curtis Black was happy at Stow.
But there was no way the Roosevelt alum could turn down a chance to travel down Fishcreek/Graham Road to coach the Rough Riders.
Black, an assistant at Stow-Munroe Falls for the past few years who was recently selected to lead Roosevelt, has the Rough Riders in his blood.
“This is definitely a dream,” Black said. “This isn’t really something that I was expecting so soon. I was happy at Stow and this is probably the only place that I would have left for. So it’s kind of like life full circle right now. I’m still trying to get used to it, but thankfully there’s plenty of familiar faces still and it’s home. It’s always been home.”
It’s not just that Black played at Roosevelt.
His older brother also played for the Rough Riders.
And his father, Cameron, won more than 100 games coaching Roosevelt.
“This is definitely huge for our family,” Black said. “It means so much from the aspect of my dad having his whole coaching/teaching career there and me and my brother growing up in the school buildings and gym. It’s kind of hard to put into words when you have your first steps in that building and then now you get to go lead a program there.”
Relationships with former coaches Ben Dunlap and John Nemec influenced Curtis Black
New Rough Riders athletic director Ben Dunlap knew Black well. Not only was Black one of his students but Dunlap brought him into coaching years ago when the latter was still playing college football. Even so, Dunlap was stunned by Black’s presentation when they recently interviewed potential head coaches.
“I was blown away because I’ve stayed in touch with him, but I haven’t really, really sat down and listened to him talk basketball since he graduated from Roosevelt,” Dunlap said. “I was just blown away.”
As Dunlap pointed out, Black learned from some of the best, starting with his own father but also including Stow-Munroe Falls basketball coach Dave Close and football assistant coach John Nemec, with Black assisting both while with the Bulldogs. (Black also played football for Nemec at Roosevelt.)
Given the time Black spent around Nemec and his father prior to going into coaching, it might have seemed like he was always destined to coach basketball, but if that was true, he didn’t know it.
“Coaching was never something that I truly wanted to do,” Black said. “I knew my dad was a coach obviously and my brother went to pursue coaching, but that’s never what I saw for myself at the time.”
Setbacks in college playing career led Curtis Black to coaching
Indeed, after graduating high school, Black left the hardwood behind, going off to play football at the University of Akron. (That was a remarkable story in its own right given Black had played a single year of high school football.)
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But his college football career quickly suffered setbacks.
At Akron, his offensive line coach passed away, prompting Black to transfer.
At his next stop, Gannon University in Erie, Pa., a knee injury sidelined Black.
It was at that time that coaching found Black.
More specifically, Dunlap, then the head boys basketball coach at Roosevelt, found a freshman assistant in Black.
“He always was a basketball junkie, maybe not the best player, but he was always watching and evaluating, even as a high school kid,” said Dunlap, explaining why he brought Black in as a young assistant. “He was a basketball junkie and he could never get enough and was just eager to learn.”
Black quickly found that he enjoyed seeing the game in a new light. (Even when his dad led the Rough Riders, Black stayed largely separate from that world.) Now, Black got a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes work coaches do and was enthralled.
“When the opportunity to coach came, I kind of fell in love with it, just sharing my experiences with kids and giving them advice and seeing them find joy out of it,” Black said. “Being in coaches’ offices and sitting on the varsity bench with Dunlap and those guys and being in the meetings, I kind of got to see a side that I never saw before.”
If Black discovered how much he enjoyed coaching at Roosevelt, he uncovered something else just down the road.
“Stow is where I found my voice,” Black said. “Stow is where I began to understand the impact that coaching has, the impact that education has, kind of just the impact that you can have on a community with being yourself and speaking up for those who may not have the voice to do so. “
He also, of course, learned plenty from Close and Nemec.
“The way [Nemec] builds relationships is top tier. He truly cares for his players of the present and the past and that’s something that I want to embody within myself and create those lifelong relationships,” Black said. “Coach Close is truly a master of the craft and I’m thankful that I’ve spent three years with him. He’s definitely been a huge influence on me, just with how to prepare for games and how to run a program and how to also create a culture.”
Now, as Black takes over a Roosevelt team that is coming off its first winning campaign (both overall and in conference) in several years, he hopes to maintain the team’s defensive identity, which developed and flourished under Christian Hunter, who stepped down as head coach earlier this year.
“My vision for right now is to definitely keep the defensive mindset,” Black said. “I want to be active on defense. I think we’re pretty athletic. We have a little bit of size. So I want to definitely create havoc on the defensive end and get up and down on offense. I think we have the athletes to do it.”
Black also hopes to bring an alum’s passion to the job.
“Being an alum, I have a different view of it,” Black said. “It’s almost more personal for me and I definitely look forward to building off of what has already been done at Kent Roosevelt and hopefully bringing back some of that alumni presence and brotherhood that you have from being an alumni.”