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Just a sophomore, former Gainesville High catcher Michael Curry takes on leadership role for Georgia

Curry was named one of team's two captains

POSTED: February 15, 2017 6:29 p.m.
Emily Selby/For The Times

Georgia catcher Michael Curry (13) runs to home plate during the game between Georgia and Georgia Tech at Turner Field on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 in Atlanta.

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When his name was called during the University of Georgia baseball team’s 1st Pitch Banquet last Friday, Michael Curry forgot he was a sophomore.

Luckily for the Gainesville High graduate, his coaches and teammates don’t really seem to care what his classification is.

The 19-year-old Curry last Friday was named one of two team captains for the Bulldogs this season, which begins at 5 p.m. Friday with a home series against College of Charleston. After starting all but seven games during his freshman year, the catcher has emerged as a leader for a team trying to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.

“I was surprised a little bit,” Curry said of being named a team captain. “I guess it’s a bigger deal than I thought it was because I don’t really think about age and stuff like that. That never really plays a role with this team and this program.”

It certainly won’t in 2017.

The Bulldogs have only one senior and one graduate student on their roster. Keegan McGovern, Curry’s co-captain, is one of only seven juniors on the team.

The lack of upperclassmen allowed Curry to assert himself on the field and in the locker room, earning the respect of teammates and coaches alike. His willingness to lead is a trait imparted by his father Richard, a former U.S. Marine.

“I always told him never to be intimidated by your age or who you’re playing against,” Richard said during a phone interview. “You’ve got to step up and take charge and be that guy.”

Michael’s path to being “that guy” in Athens began in Murphy, North Carolina, and made a brief stop about 80 miles away in Gainesville.

A travel ball standout, Michael’s youth coaches were concerned Single-A Murphy High wouldn’t grant him proper exposure to college scouts. So he left his hometown after his sophomore year of high school, staying with a host family in Hall County while he played baseball at Gainesville High as a junior and senior.

Though Richard said the decision was “tough” for him and his wife Tawnya — who still live in Murphy — they supported Michael as he pursued his dream.

“He had so much talent,” Richard said. “We let him make that decision, and he said he wanted to do it. We didn’t want to hold him back at all. He had that burning desire. He wanted to do the best he could and have the best opportunity.”

Michael flourished despite being away from home, partially because he spent most of his summers on the road during travel ball. For him, the move was simply “going off to college early.”

But two years would pass before he truly progressed to the next stage of his career.

Those two seasons were fruitful for both Michael and Gainesville High, which reached the state semifinals and state championship series in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The catcher recorded 23 home runs and 82 RBIs during that stretch, and baseball scouting service Perfect Game named him a third team All-American as a senior.

Michael didn’t stray much farther from home when he signed with Georgia, where he immediately made an impact as a freshman. That transition wasn’t without some growing pains, though.

“It’s different than high school ball,” he said. “Hitting and getting used to the caliber of pitching in the SEC was a huge adjustment. Every weekend, you’re expecting to see someone really good, a top draft pick kind of guy. I had to catch up to them physically and mentally.”

On top of that, Michael had to get acclimated with his team’s strategy behind the plate and catching for college pitchers.

Yet he thrived while learning on the fly. The sophomore led the Bulldogs with 11 home runs last year, which were fifth-most nationally among freshman. He also drove in 34 runs and didn’t let much get past him defensively, recording a .990 fielding percentage.

Richard said he knew his son was ready for the jump to college baseball. Michael, however, claimed he’s surprised how quickly he adapted.

“Once you get it down, it’s just baseball. It’s just like another game,” Michael said. “But the first time you see a 95-mph pitch, it’s like, ‘Woah.’ But the more you see it, the more comfortable you get.”

Though he earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Michael isn’t content with last year’s performance.

The former Gainesville High standout said he wants to cut down on strikeouts after leading his team with 61 last year. He’s also trying to stay on top of his defense and remain a steady presence behind the plate for his inexperienced pitching staff.

What may not need too much improving is Michael’s leadership.

The sophomore is already a team captain, after all.

“Last year we had a lot of older guys, so my role as a leader may not have been able to shine as much,” Michael said. “But coming into this year, I knew we were very young and didn’t really have a lot of upperclassmen. I knew what this year is going to consist of.

“I knew I had to step up, and I will.”



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