In many ways, Rennie Curran hasn’t changed. Admittedly, his braces are three years gone and he’s playing with the big dogs now. But Curran isn’t any taller, and as the tattoo on his left bicep attests, this Liberian is still dreaming.
“In the next five years I’m hoping to have my first business,” Curran said. “I’ll use the money I make in the NFL to work for me. I’m a musician as well, so I want to get into the music industry.”
Based on the size of his arms, the average passer-by might not guess that Curran grew up playing the piano, drums and the viola in orchestra.
When he started receiving college offers for football, though, Curran had to pick the sport or the music.
For the first time in a while, Curran won’t have to choose between football and his hobbies — rather, he can use his football benefits to further those pursuits.
“The great thing about being in the NFL is that you have the opportunity to get through a lot of doors that a lot of people don’t,” he said. “You’re surrounded by business owners a lot of times, you’re surrounded by other musicians … a lot of people in different industries. So if you know how to utilize that and network, you really set yourself up while you’re playing.”
The elbow-rubbing certainly helps further his networking goals.
However, Curran isn’t relying on his newfound fame as the sole catalyst for his music business dreams.
He is also taking online business courses in his free time and plans to return as a full-time college student after his NFL career ends.
Music production is no joke to Curran, but he’s excited to get into it.
“I got into producing and I fell in love with that,” he said. “So I kind of want to do that as a back-up plan. That’s one thing that I could see myself doing that I don’t really consider work. I love it.”
Perceived weakness turned into strength
Climbing the football ladder has a lot to do with getting noticed. Thanks in part to his recent trip to Liberia, Curran realized just how lucky he was to have the opportunity to be spotted.
“One thing that struck me was when I went to my mother’s village and saw some kids playing soccer,” he said. “Just knowing that they’ll probably never have the opportunity to get discovered — you know, whereas me playing over here, I got the chance to get looked at by college scouts — but them, they play in a small village, and they can be as talented as they want to be. But chances are they’ll never be known enough. They’ll never get that chance.”
Cheryl Benton — team mom and wife of Curran’s youth league coach, Ronnie Benton — remembers him in the earliest stages of his football career.
“He was 8 years old when we got to know him,” she said. “His parents were Liberian, so they didn’t really get the American culture’s football, but they knew Rennie was interested in it and they always were supportive of what he wanted to do. And of course, the first day on the field, Rennie was a superior athlete, even then.”
Curran stuck with football and stuck with the Benton family long after the youth league team disbanded.
In fact, Curran cites the Bentons as a major reason he signed at Georgia.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if it weren’t for my little league coach, Ronnie Benton,” he said. “He took me to my first Georgia game ever and taught me all of the traditions at kickoff and everything. I’ll never forget that experience. As soon as I saw the stadium, I was determined that this was where I was going to go. I feel like he kind of planted that seed in me.”
Curran’s career at Georgia was filled with victories and awards, including the Most Valuable Defensive Player award in 2008 and the Vince Dooley Most Valuable Player of the Year award in 2009.
Perhaps it’s his extensive list of college achievements that convinced the Tennessee Titans to overlook Curran’s size in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“Height has always been an issue and always will be,” he said. “That’s kind of become my identity. But I’ve realized that’s something I can’t control, and all I can do is use my strength that God gave me. I have a million other things that I do well. It’s just funny to me that they pick on the one thing I can’t control, but a lot of times I use my height to my advantage. What some people see as a weakness is actually what I feel is one of my biggest strengths.”
Learning from mistakes
As fortunate as Curran has been, his road to success has not been without its twists.
Of course, being an athlete in the spotlight doesn’t make mistakes easy to handle.
“It only takes one incident for you to get in trouble,” he said. “The media’s on top of you and your reputation’s tarnished.”
While Curran was still at Georgia, he was charged with theft by taking after discovering a parking boot on his scooter in 2007.
Rather than calling to remove the boot, he simply hoisted the booted scooter into his truck and drove back to his dorm.
Last fall, Curran made headlines for a simple battery charge.
“He had bad press with the whole deal with the mother of his child, but he’s just a real person,” Benton said. “He has issues just like everybody else. And she’s a lovely person, too, and they love their child so much. It was one of those things that was unexpected.”
To make matters worse, Curran was then let go by the Titans.
Fortunate for him, he has found a second chance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Curran is not proud of the situation, but he’s learned from it.
“You’ve got to be professional no matter what,” Curran said. “You go through a lot, especially in our industry. There’s a lot of temptation and a lot of ups and downs. One second people love you, the next second you’re not good enough.”
Becoming a positive influence
Georgia students may recall Curran’s sideline dances during home games or the grin he sported in between classes.
But his good nature extends beyond an upbeat attitude and a ready smile.
“Rennie is still very close to us,” Benton said. “He’s usually the first person to tell me, ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ every year. He always is so thoughtful.”
And it’s not just that Curran is thoughtful.
Benton said he’s trustworthy, too.
“I would trust him with anything,” Benton said. “My children, my money, my house. He’s a lovely boy.”
His thoughtfulness shines through when he talks about the best part of being in the NFL.
Curran didn’t cite the fame or the money.
Rather, he said it’s the opportunity to do some good with his newfound resources.
“The best thing is something that a lot of guys don’t realize until they’re done,” he said. “But it’s the platform that you have and the potential that you have for influence. If I show up to a school and talk to kids, they pay full attention. That’s huge, to be able to speak and [have] people listen to your opinion and what you say. My favorite part about being an NFL player is I can make somebody’s day just by saying ‘Hi’ to them or responding to them on Twitter.”