Former Muskogee Rougher Kamren Curl’s mettle as a Division I football player has had its share of test by fire.
First, just two games into his freshman season, a right pectoral injury to left cornerback Ryan Pulley thrust Curl into the starting lineup against TCU, and for most of that season, he became the primary target of SEC offenses.
After the season, a coaching change from Bret Bielema to Chad Morris led to Curl being moved from corner to strong safety, where he started all but the last game of a forgettable 2-10 season.
That kind of load — 22 of 24 starts thus far — for a true junior is one thing. But suffering through the worst two-year period (6-18) since 1952-53 and the worst single season winning percentage (167) since 1932 within a proud football history doesn’t sit well with a generally rabid fan base is another.
And it doesn’t sit well with Curl either.
“I feel good about this year,” he said. “It’s been tough but we’ve got a year of a new staff under our belts and there’s more of a unity, more of a family feel, and you look around and you can see the progress that’s been made.”
Curl is due a breakout year, just as the Razorbacks are, having just one winning conference record since 2011.
He was fourth on the team in tackles a year ago with 53 as well as five pass breakups and a forced fumble, following a freshman year where he had 46 tackles and eight pass breakups.
He’s surrounded by a cast of sophomores including Joseph Foucha at free safety and redshirt corners Jarques McClellion and Montaric Brown.
Morris commended Curl as one of the top performers in the spring, both in terms of consistent play and a leadership role that’s expected from him.
Kam, he’s still by age, very young,” Arkansas secondary coach Ron Cooper told to reporters earlier this month. “At the same time, this will be his third year. He played a lot the year before we got here at corner. He started every game last year at safety and had a great spring. He’s probably in the best shape of his life.
“His body looks the same but he’s probably cut his body fat down. Most importantly, he understands the scheme. He can get on the board and teach it to the younger guys when I’m not around. So, we’re looking for big things out of Kam.”
Curl understands those expectations.
“I had to learn on the fly as a freshman and relied a lot on the seniors in terms of how to handle things as well as taking care of my body,” he said. “I’d say I’ve matured from my sophomore to my junior year. I’ve gained about five pounds but that’s more muscle than the past two years going back to when I came in as a freshman at 197 pounds.”
He’s now 6-2, 204.
“The weight, sometimes it slows you but I’ve been focusing on speed work and in the end I’ve still got that speed plus I’m stronger,” Curl said.
And, although somewhat contrary to his nature, he’s developing into a vocal leader, as requested by the coaching staff.
“I’m not a talkative person, but the coaches have challenged me to be a more vocal leader out there,” he said. “I’m the one with the most experience in the secondary. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in the spring and summer and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Curl was razor-focused on getting to this level throughout his high school years. His dad, Greg, was proactive in the recruiting process, taking Kamren many a mile for unofficial visits and contacts with various college coaches, learning about the recruiting process and all he needed to do to get noticed at that level, and still passes that knowledge on to other area kids today.
The extra work paid off with his son. Curl was offered by over a dozen schools and in the end, grabbed a Razorbacks cap off a table that included one from Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Baylor and TCU.
That discipline has stayed with him, making his one blemish – a seemingly innocent one and if you will – a minimal one.
Curl and Pulley were seen taking pictures with and talking to female members of the Mississippi State dance team prior to a 52-6 loss in Starkville, Miss., last season. Both were suspended for one game. Curl called it a “misunderstanding” involving the person who saw it, but has moved past it.
On the field, one personal goal is sharpened coverage skills, both individually and responding to the needs of the corners in certain situations.
“On specific coverages, you have to know where your leverage is and help is and have enough focus on that where you allow yourself to play fast,” he said. “You want to know your responsibilities on the field so you can play the receiver hard, knowing you have help inside.”
One lesson driven home is at the college level, there’s no plays off.
“Technique is so important because everyone you face has talent and you can’t just beat them on pure ability,” he said. “To grow as a player, it comes down to perfecting technique.”
If Curl, a communications major, steps up as a leader both vocally and performance-wise, 2019 could well be a breakout year for him, and a better year for the Razorbacks.