Most NFL players can't wait to buy a luxury vehicle with their first NFL paycheck purchase. Then there is Tennessee Titans' rookie linebacker Rennie Curran, Jr. who can't wait to buy a Dodge Challenger.
"It's a reasonably priced car," Curran said. "It's my dream car actually. Not too expensive."
Curran, it turns out, is more concerned about real life than rims.
It should come as no surprise that the former standout for the University of Georgia has his mind elsewhere. Curran said that as excited as he is to be playing on Sundays, he is looking forward to being able to help his parents out financially. For 21 years, Curran has watched his parents work and struggle not just to make ends meet, but to help others.
It all started in the mid 80's when Curran's mother Josie came to the United States from Liberia to get a masters in nursing at Emory College in Atlanta. After Josie got her graduate degree, Curran's father, also named Rennie, joined his wife in Georgia and brought along their daughter. Another daughter was born a couple years later then Rennie entered the world in 1988, just as civil war was breaking out in Liberia.
"Things had started to get bad over there," Curran said. "The fighting was breaking out and it was getting worse and worse."
With most of their family in Africa, the Currans quickly began to do what they could to help. It started slowly with money and clothing to help immediate family and then the impact began to grown. At the time, Curran's grandfather was bishop of the Methodist church in the country and pretty soon, he began to take in refuges and orphans. A meal, a place to stay, some clothes - it was simple but it was a refuge of hope in the war torn country. Items from the Currans in Atlanta were finding their way to the capitol city of Monrovia to help people in need.
All told, he estimates that over 25 children were helped by his family's generosity. But things were getting worse in the country as the civil war waged on. Pretty soon, his grandfather's life was in danger as the bishop had spoken out about the war and made enemies. Rennie's family began saving up to bring them over to safety.
Others followed suit as aunts and uncles and cousins began to trickle over, their flights to freedom paid for by Air Curran. Sometimes, 10 people would cram into the three room apartment Rennie shared with his parents and three sisters. Rennie, Sr. owned a shoe repair business for a number of years, working 12-hour days to bring in money to support the extended family both here and abroad.
In 7th grade, Rennie, Sr. lost the business due to an economic downturn and his son remembers his father working hard to always make ends meet. Although educated in Liberia, Rennie, Sr. worked everything from construction to driving a taxi, putting in long and grueling hours. Mother Josie always took every shifts as a nurse. Every little bit helped the nuclear and extended family make ends meet.
"Growing up, I never had a lot of things. When other kids had Jordans on, my sneakers were from Payless," Curran remembers. "It wasn't easy at first, wondering why I couldn't have the new things like everyone else. But after awhile, I realized what really mattered and why parents worked and gave like they did."
But he grew up happy. He developed a fondness for music, playing the drums in church at age 11. His grandparents, he says, taught him African culture. Every once in awhile, dad would come home with a new toy for him and that would occupy hours of his time. Then of course, there was football.
Curran began playing football at age 10 and by high school, he was earning a reputation as a player to watch. As a sophomore, he had become a starter on head coach Mark Crews' Brookwood team in Gwinnett County. The following season, he hauled in his first offer from Ole Miss. Crews calls him the "best defensive player I've coached in 33 years of coaching."
"Rennie was one of the best players in Georgia from the time he was a sophomore," Crews said. "He lead Gwinnett county in tackles and was an all state type player his junior and senior seasons."
But as the offers from all over the South began to pour in, Curran only wanted one offer and that was Georgia. His first college football game was when his Little League coach took him to Athens and he fell in love with campus immediately. Curran, despite not holding an offer, was a regular on campus. He, simply put, wanted to be a Bulldog.
"I was up there so much that everyone with the program knew me and knew my face," Curran said with a laugh. "I was up there every spring practice, every meeting."
Father knew how much his son wanted to go to Georgia but he also knew that without a scholarship, his son couldn't attend. Paying part of the tuition bill for his oldest daughter to attend Emory meant that dad finances were strapped; the only way to play for Georgia would be a full-ride. Walking on was not an option. Curran didn't let the recruiting process distract him. He simply went out to make plays and let everything sort itself out.
"Rennie is probably the best player I've been around in years, but he is also, without question, one of the most genuine and caring kids I've ever been around," Crews said. "He is, and has always been a tremendous role model for other players in our program."
A man of deep faith, Rennie's father simply knelt down and prayed with his son. Then, he took his paycheck and in the words of his son, "simply gave it to God." The entire week's salary was given to the church.
"My father simply prayed that God would make a way for me to go to Georgia," Curran remembers. "He acted in faith."
One week later, the offer from Georgia came in. A few days after that, Rennie committed to the program, his dream realized.
After a career that saw him top over 300 tackles at Georgia, Curran left Georgia a year early for the NFL. Curran showed the leadership and selfless giving modeled by his parents while on the field at Georgia. And true to form, off it too.
"Rennie has been a cornerstone of our defense over the last couple years and even as a freshman, made tremendous contributions," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "I think our team's fondness for Rennie was demonstrated by his election by his teammates as one of our permanent defensive captains for 2009."
Now at Tennessee, Curran notes that he is just a five hour drive from home, an easy trip for all of his family to see him play home games for the Titans. He says he loves the life of a pro and sees opportunities to make some instant playing time with the team. Already, he's enjoying palling around with his new teammates, calling Titans' wide receiver Kenny Britt "a real jokester."
And maybe more than anything, he now has an opportunity to pay back his parents for their sacrifice. After years of them giving of their possessions, time, energy and resources to help others, Rennie sees the paycheck that comes with playing on Sunday as just something to give back to them.
"My parents, right now, things still aren't easy for them," Curran said, noting that his parents had to dip into their retirement fund to help send his other sister to college. "But now I hope I can make their lives easier. After all they've done for me, they've done for my beautiful sisters, after everything they've done for so many others in my family, I hope that this is now for them."
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL for FoxSports.com and Scout.com. He can be reached for questions, comments and crude remarks at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012
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