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Originally published Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 2:49 PM

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Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry's dreams have come true

He went from a skinny kid with broad shoulders back in high school in Fayetteville, N.C., to the No. 4 overall pick in this year's NFL draft

Seattle Times staff reporter

aron Curry is 247 pounds of muscle and menace, and Aaron Curry is a self-described Mama's boy who met his wife over Facebook. P He is a linebacker, the football equivalent of a heat-seeking missile, and he has a little sweet tooth, too. The UPC bar code for Jujubes — his favorite candy — is tattooed on his shoulder.

He is a man made of contrasts, a big hitter with a soft heart. He's a player who waited years for his body to catch up to his desire for football and now he's an NFL rookie noted for his size, the largest of Seattle's linebackers.

He was considered the most NFL-ready player available in April's draft and the Seahawks' highest pick in a dozen years, yet talk to the man who coached him the past five years at Wake Forest and he can brag on Curry for five minutes before he even gets around to the man's athletic talents.

"The best thing about Aaron Curry," said Jim Grobe, Wake Forest's coach, "is he really cares about other people."

That was true back in high school in Fayetteville, N.C., when Curry was a skinny kid with broad shoulders and big dreams.

"I tell you, I have a lot of memories," said Milton Butts, who coached Curry at E.E. Smith High School.

Memories that make even a hard-nosed high-school coach chuckle, his words flavored by a sweet Carolina drawl.

"He made everyone around him better," Butts said. "He played with a lot emotion and a lot fire. He played with passion and that thing radiated throughout our entire football team."

Curry cares so much that he shared the stage on one of the biggest days of his life, inviting Bryson Merriweather, a 12-year-old leukemia survivor, to join him and his family in New York at the NFL draft. And even when it comes to generosity, Curry shares credit, pointing to Butts, Grobe and Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert.

"Those three guys have always taught me that it's not about myself," Curry said. "They've taught me it's about doing something special and impacting the lives of other people."

Curry is the one good thing that came out of Seattle's 4-12 debacle of a season, and he could go on to be one great thing about this team. The No. 4 overall pick signed a six-year contract with the Seahawks that will pay him at least $34 million. It wasn't just an investment in Curry, it was an investment in what he can do to the players around him.

Growing into the game

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Big paws on the puppy.

That's the first thing Grobe noticed when he met Curry. He didn't shake hands so much as he engulfed them.

"If Aaron ever grows into those hands," Grobe remembers thinking, "he's going to be a great player."

That's the story for the first part of Curry's football career. He just needed his body to fill out. But as a redshirt freshman, Aaron was a few Happy Meals shy of 200 pounds, and back in high school he was the skinny kid who could run a little bit.

"He didn't have the body," said Leon Mack, the athletic director at Curry's high school. "He had the heart, the spirit and the desire, and he was one of those young men always looking to prove himself."

Football ran down the family tree. His older brother, Chris, was a defensive back at North Carolina. Aaron's father is Reggie Pinkney, a former NFL defensive back with the Lions and Colts.

Curry played junior-varsity football as a high-school freshman and made varsity as a sophomore, starting at defensive end. Butts would joke about the way bigger linemen tossed him around and teased Curry that he was soft. Curry lost his starting job by the end of that season, which is when he showed the resolve that would become the bedrock of his football career.

"When those adversities hit, he didn't do anything but work harder and harder," Butts said. "That enthusiasm that he plays with radiates around everyone."

Curry played linebacker his last two years, and Wake Forest and East Carolina were the only two top-tier colleges to offer him a scholarship. But Wake Forest had high hopes for the athletic kid with big hands. Grobe couldn't figure out why everyone in the ACC wasn't after him.

"Any time you take a kid you really like, but no one else did, you kind of scratch your head," Grobe said.

Curry started as a redshirt freshman and never left the lineup. As a junior, he intercepted four passes — returned three of them for touchdowns — and had enough of a body of work to consider entering the NFL draft.

The fact that his mother, Chris, had been evicted from her home in the summer of 2006 was both a consideration and a motivation.

"One of the biggest turning moments of my life," Curry said in April. "Where I realized I had to do something, and football was it."

He entered his name for consideration, and was told he might be a third-round pick. He talked about it with his mom, discussed it with his teammates and even had a half-joking incentive from his coach.

Curry had always wanted to wear a single-digit jersey. He'd even gone so far as to ask Grobe for it, but the coach had a hard-and-fast rule that only his skill-position players would wear a single digits, no defensive guys.

Come back, though, Grobe said, and you can wear a single digit on the jersey. Well, Curry came back. His teammates talked about unfinished business and making a third consecutive postseason bowl. Mom had her say, too, and that was the final say. She wanted him to play that season and get his degree.

When Curry returned to Wake Forest, Grobe asked him about the jersey. He could have that single digit if he wanted. Curry declined. See, all the other linebackers wanted single digits, too, and if they couldn't have it, he wouldn't either.

"That just tells you what he thinks about his teammates," Grobe said.

Soft side

The friendship started over ridicule, two college kids puffed out with school pride.

Curry went to Wake Forest, Jamila attended Clemson, and they met on Facebook. She jokes it was only because her last name started with an A, putting her close to the top.

"It was really just a bunch of trash talk between me and her," he said. "It turned into a really good friendship."

Jamila graduated first. She had a degree in economics and a job offer that would have taken her to Arizona. She talked through it with Aaron, who weighed the pluses and minuses without ever letting on how much he wanted her to stay.

"I knew she was the one for me," he said. "But I felt like I wanted her to do what she was going to be happy doing. I didn't want to be so selfish."

She opted against the job, and it was only then Curry let her know how happy he was that she was staying put.

"When she told me she wasn't going, I was one of the happiest men on earth," he said.

Jamila asked why he hadn't said that earlier, and he said he didn't want her to turn down an opportunity because of him. That was when Jamila knew he was the one for her.

They're married now and expecting their first child.

"This last year, it has been a fast year," Curry said. "One of the milestones in my life. Everything happened.

"All my dreams came true."

He earned his degree in sociology, he received the Dick Butkus Award for being the NCAA's top linebacker, and he has met the man the award was named for.

He signed a contract that will make him a millionaire at least 34 times over, which will allow him to make sure his mother will never want for anything again after raising her three sons.

The Carolina kid's body has finally caught up to the desire and determination that has always been there.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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