Kelsey Curry, the director of football operations at McNeese State, and Jeremy Curry, the first-year Western Illinois defensive line coach, were married last summer in New York, where they met six years ago. (Photo courtesy Kelsey Curry)
By Barry Bottino
Jeremy and Kelsey Curry are newlyweds living their dream … with one catch.
Ready to soak up college football game days and mold young athletes into better players and better men, the Currys are thrilled for the start of the FCS season this week, albeit nearly 1,000 miles apart.
“With blessings come sacrifice,” said Jeremy, the first-year defensive line coach at Western Illinois, his alma mater. “This is her dream and mine.”
His wife of 14 months, Kelsey, is living and working 975 miles south of Macomb. She is in her third season as the director of football operations at FCS McNeese State in Lake Charles, La.
Since they met nearly six years ago, working on the football staff at NCAA Division III Alfred State College in western New York, being in college football together has been their dream, so much so that a friend dubbed them “The Mr. and Mrs. of College Football.”
“When I found out they were dating, I said, ‘This is perfect,’” said Mike Famiglietti, a former teammate of Jeremy’s at WIU and a longtime friend of the couple who gave them the nickname. “We’ve got an absolute stud coach with an even better stud coach.
“Take that how you will,” he said with a laugh. “They very much push each other every single day. It’s unfortunate they can’t spend every day together because there’d be crazy mountains moved if that happened.”
Becoming a couple
Jeremy Curry was a standout player at Bolingbrook High School in suburban Chicago who later played on the defensive line at WIU.
The third stop of his coaching career landed him at Alfred State, located 90 miles southeast of Buffalo.
Kelsey Curry played softball for three seasons at the college before working with the football staff as a senior. A year later, after graduation, she returned as a jack-of-all-trades intern under offensive coordinator Tony Spencer.
“I did a little bit of equipment,” she said. “I did a little bit of football operations. I washed laundry, set up for practice.”
She also charted plays for Spencer and helped host recruiting events. She made a quick impression on Spencer, who encouraged her to look into a career in football operations, but it took many months of working with the team before her future husband noticed her and they began dating.
“Jeremy says, ‘I knew that you’d be my wife one day when I saw you carrying a tackling dummy on your back across the field,’” Kelsey joked.
What Jeremy Curry didn’t know at the time was that football was nothing new to Kelsey, whose family is well known around her hometown of Johnson City, N.Y.
“When I was probably 4 or 5, my grandfather and my uncle ran a pee-wee football program,” she said. “My mom tells stories that I was always on the sidelines with my grandfather, trying to call plays with him and following him around.
“I had my own little whistle and clipboard,” she said. “I just always wanted to be around football and involved in football.”
The path to Division I
After just over a year of working at Alfred State, the couple worked to find a path into Division I football. Meanwhile, their relationship blossomed.
“I had seen so many examples in college football of it’s either or,” Jeremy Curry said. “You can’t have your love and this game. You have to choose which one you want to invest in.
“I felt, ‘Why not be different?’” he said. “It’s very nontraditional. One thing I know is we became best friends first. We became allies and learned a lot about each other’s passion. That passion we shared about the game and the kids is what sold me.”
They sent emails to colleges and universities across the country in search of jobs.
“I can’t tell you how many coaches (we) reached out to,” Kelsey Curry said. “It was probably a couple thousand.”
They got one response, the couple recalled, from Grant Mollring, who is now entering his sixth season as head coach at D-III Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa.
“I had never heard of it in my life,” Kelsey Curry said.
She began work in January 2018 as football operations coordinator, while Jeremy Curry coached outside linebackers.
Working for a D-III school, the couple had to wear several hats, including as freshmen admissions counselors, where their passion for the game and young people was clear.
“When we speak to people, they feel it,” Jeremy Curry said. “They feel our genuine care for them. We said, ‘Let’s take this opportunity to understand that admissions is the same as recruiting football players.’ We cared about what (students) were passionate about. That set us apart from a lot of people.”
Their first break
In early 2020, Kelsey Curry’s networking skills paid dividends.
New McNeese State head coach Frank Wilson – now the associate head coach and running backs coach at LSU – was looking to hire an operations director.
“We both said, ‘Division I is where we want to go,’” Kelsey Curry said of the couple’s goal.
So when she got a phone call from Lake Charles, La., with a job offer while shopping for groceries in Iowa, she accepted immediately.
With the help of several Buena Vista players, the couple packed their cars within 48 hours and headed to Louisiana, where Jeremy would coach high school football at two different schools as the couple, the country and Lake Charles was tested over and over and over for the next year.
After arriving in February, McNeese State and schools across the country shut down in late March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Players returned to campus in May, but the Southland Conference soon cancelled the 2020 fall season over COVID-19 concerns.
“That was hard,” Kelsey Curry said. “We thought, ‘It can’t get any worse.’ I was completely incorrect.”
Weeks after McNeese’s fall 2020 season was called off, Hurricane Laura hit the Lake Charles area in August, landing as a Category 4 storm and killing nearly 30 people. Necessities such as power and water were knocked out.
“You didn’t know where the (players) were at,” Kelsey Curry said. “It was terrifying. We had a hard time finding some of them.”
Jeremy and Kelsey Curry left before the storm, staying with family in Arkansas. When they returned, the picture was grim.
Athletic facilities and academic buildings were severely damaged and the football field was flooded. The ceiling of their apartment collapsed.
On its website, Sports Illustrated published a story with the headline “McNeese State’s Summer of Hell.”
About two weeks after that story was published, the area was hit by Hurricane Delta, causing the couple to stay with coaching friends in Texas.
“The stadium was way more underwater the second time,” Kelsey Curry said.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done. In February 2021, a massive ice storm devastated the area, which led to a federal emergency declaration. Three months later, the Lake Charles area was hit with an historic 16- to 18-inch rainfall in six hours.
“I just kept thinking, ‘If we can get through all this, any other job in the country will be easy,” she said.
The couple got married in the state where they met in June 2021 at Greek Peak, a ski resort in Cortland, N.Y.
The event featured a who’s who of their football lives.
“One half of our wedding was our family, and the other half was our former players,” said Jeremy Curry, who proposed at the American Football Coaches Association conference in January 2020 in Nashville.
“There were NFL coaches, college coaches, and a lot of kids came from Iowa,” Kelsey Curry said. “We had a lot of students that we had built connections with.”
Six months later, the couple had a decision to make when Jeremy received a Division I job offer from his former college teammate – new WIU head coach Myers Hendrickson.
“This opportunity came around and (Kelsey) said, ‘You’ve sacrificed time after time for me. It’s the reason we’re here. I’m not having you sacrifice again. You need to go.’”
Camp season and kickoff
Some of the most difficult times, Kelsey Curry admitted, came during fall camp, when the distance seemed overwhelming at times.
“Camp was hard,” she said. “We were on two different schedules. It was just finding those few minutes a day to connect, even if you’re walking 5 minutes from practice to the fieldhouse or those 2 minutes getting out of the house in the morning. FaceTime is the greatest thing that’s ever been invented.”
To celebrate her husband’s first day of fall camp in Macomb, Kelsey sent a “camp starter pack,” complete with snacks, a new whistle and plenty of other treats.
“She’s my rock,” Jeremy Curry said. “She’s a constant reminder of why I’m here. It’s tough when she’s getting on one plane and I’m getting on another. But I could not be doing this with any other person. I’m blessed to have her as my partner.”
The couple has embraced their roles on new coaching staffs, led by Hendrickson at WIU and first-year head coach Gary Goff at McNeese.
“To me, it’s like I have 120 kids of my own,” Kelsey Curry said of her football operations role. “I always say I have 120 kids and 14 other husbands at McNeese. These kids have impacted me more than I could ever tell them.”
Jeremy Curry prides himself on being a no-nonsense coach and person.
“I’m a tough coach, but I’m a loving coach,” he said.
Though their distance has changed, the goal remains the same.
“It may be hard now, but one day we are going to meet back up on the same sideline and it’s all going to be worth it,” Kelsey Curry said.
Having the Currys on the same sideline is something that Famiglietti hopes will happen soon.
“The college football landscape would be better for it,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Their sacrifice means something.”
For now, they’ll rely on rooting for each other as husband and wife and for each other’s teams, starting with WIU’s Sept. 1 season opener at UT-Martin and Sept. 3 when McNeese travels to Montana State.
“We joke around that on Thursday night, I’ll be the biggest Leatherneck fan in the world,” Kelsey Curry said. “On Saturday, he’ll be the biggest McNeese Cowboys fan.”