They say it to Curt Anes everywhere he goes--on the golf course,
in a parking lot, at a restaurant, in a grocery store. On this
summer evening they say it to him at a downtown watering hole in
Grand Rapids. Anes, a quarterback at Division II Grand Valley
State just a few miles away, stands on an outdoor deck talking
to a friend when a young woman steps forward. She stares at him
as if he's glowing in the dark. "I want to tell you, Curt, that
I'm a huge fan," she gushes. "I know you'll make it to the NFL."
For the rest of the night one person after another stops by to
forecast greatness for Anes, who last season was the
highest-rated quarterback in college football at any level.
"It's like being out with a rock star," says Mario Locricchio, a
junior wide receiver at Grand Valley and one of Anes's roommates.
"People everywhere tell him he's awesome. I never thought a guy
could be so popular at this level."
Indeed, in the backwaters of college football it's rare for a
player to command widespread attention. But that's what Anes, a
native of Kentwood, Mich., has done in the Wolverine State. Last
December he finished second to Valdosta (Ga.) State senior
quarterback Dusty Bonner in the voting for the Harlon Hill Award,
the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. A few days
later a Detroit Free Press poll asked readers to submit their
three choices for athlete of the year from a list of 26
Michigan-based names. The fifth-place finisher was defenseman
Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings. Professional bowler Mike
Koivuniemi was fourth, Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins was
third, and the runner-up was John Herrington, the legendary coach
at Farmington Hills High. The winner? Anes, who had the largest
margin of victory in the 16 years the Free Press has held the
poll. "People in Michigan relate to Curt because he's one of
their own," says Grand Valley State coach Brian Kelly. "And last
year he played as well as you can."
"Everything came together for me," says Anes, who is now a
fifth-year senior. "It was my third year as the starter, and I
was able to read defenses quickly."
In leading the Lakers to a 10-0 regular season in 2001, the 6'2",
210-pound Anes had a pass efficiency rating of 221.6, the highest
single-season mark in Division I, Division I-AA and Division II
history. (The previous holder was Idaho's Boyd Crawford, who had
a 210.1 rating in 1953.) Anes completed 189 of 271 (69.7%) for
3,086 yards while throwing 48 touchdown passes and only three
interceptions. "Everything went perfectly for the first 10
games," says Anes, 22. "Then it came crashing down."
On Nov. 17, in the first round of the Division II playoffs,
Grand Valley hosted Bloomsburg (Pa.). Leading 28-14 with 26
seconds remaining in the first half, the Lakers had
third-and-one on Bloomsburg's 48. Kelly instructed Anes to run a
quarterback sneak. As soon as Anes pushed into the pile, his
left foot got caught in the grass. Several players fell on Anes
and rocked him backward, causing his leg to twist grotesquely.
Immediately he knew the injury was serious. As he lay on the
ground, he looked up at his teammates for encouragement. None of
them could look at him.
When the Grand Valley trainer reached the field, he feared that
Anes's left knee had been dislocated, meaning the main artery
behind the knee could have been damaged. Thirty minutes later, as
Anes was being wheeled into a hospital, a nurse grabbed his hand
and told him, "If the artery is severed, we might have to
A dye was injected into Anes's leg, which allowed doctors to
determine the extent of the injury to the artery, a process that
took 20 minutes. Anes, crying softly the whole time, cupped a
small sterling silver cross in his hands as he waited for the
results. "One minute you're playing the best football of your
life, and the next a nurse is saying you might lose your leg,"
says Anes. "It was hard to deal with."
The nurse returned with good news: The artery was intact and,
surprisingly, only one of the four ligaments in the knee had been
torn. Nine months later Anes has regained 90% of the strength in
the knee, and he's scheduled to start on Sept. 7 when top-ranked
Grand Valley hosts third-ranked UC Davis to open the season.
"Curt can make all the throws," says Kelly, whose team went on to
beat Bloomsburg after Anes was injured but lost to North Dakota
17-14 in the Division II national championship game. "He's a
For Kelly, it was luck that landed Anes at Grand Valley. Growing
up in Kentwood, a suburb of Grand Rapids, Anes was in ninth
grade when his older brother, John, received a scholarship to
Michigan as a tailback. Like John, Curt was a football star.
After throwing 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions in his
senior season at East Kentwood High in 1997, Curt figured he'd
follow John and play Division I football. But that year the
state was flush with talented high school quarterbacks.
Recruiters were agog over 6'5" Drew Henson (he signed with
Michigan), 6'5" Ryan Van Dyke (Michigan State) and 6'4" Dane
Fife (he went to Indiana to play basketball). At the time the
biggest knock on Anes was that he was only six feet tall. "If
you weren't 6'5" the year I graduated," says Anes, "then you
didn't fit the mold."
Division I Central Michigan showed interest, but two days before
Anes's official visit the school signed another quarterback. A
week later Anes was in the locker room at East Kentwood High when
Kelly walked in and told him he would start for four years if he
became a Laker. Three days later Anes committed. Then, during his
redshirt season, he grew two inches. "If Curt had been that tall
in high school, he'd be at a major Division I school now," says
Kelly. "He can play at any level."
Grand Valley State will be a popular destination for pro scouts
this season. Thirty NFL teams have already contacted Kelly,
pressing him for details about Anes. It remains to be seen if he
has the arm strength for the NFL, but scouts are intrigued by his
vision. Says one AFC scout, "Curt has the uncanny ability to see
an SUV leaving the parking lot on one side of the field and hit a
receiver on the other side of the field at the same time."
Because Anes is healthy and the Lakers have 16 starters back,
there's anticipation that this could be Grand Valley's year. The
school has never won a national championship, an achievement Anes
figured the Lakers could have earned in 2001 had he not gotten
hurt. "We were close to a national title last year," says Anes.
"This year we need to finish it, and I think we will."
COLOR PHOTO: GRAND VALLEY STATE (TOP) HIGH NUMBERS Anes's 2001 rating was the highest ever for a passer in Division I, I-AA or II.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID H. SCHREIBER [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: MALCOLM TURNER
COLOR PHOTO: JOE ROGATE
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN QUACKENBOS
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN SWARTZ/BSU PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES
Here's how one NFL scout sizes up Curt Anes's pro prospects.
"It looks as though Anes has adequate arm strength. It's
certainly as good as or better than that of a guy like the
Redskins' Danny Wuerffel. Like Wuerffel, Anes has nice touch and
good vision. You can tell he's got good football intelligence
because he can solve potential problems on the field before they
become problems. I also like the fact that he's athletic enough
to scramble, and when he does scramble, his priority is to buy
time and not take off running up the field. At this point the
biggest question mark is his level of competition. Given Anes's
size and arm, he reminds me a little of the Detmer brothers, Ty
and Koy, and both of them have had good careers as NFL backups.
Right now Anes looks like a second-day pick in the draft."
The Early Line
Aside from Curt Anes, here are five other top candidates for
the Harlon Hill Award, given to the best player in Division II.
1. Neal Philpot, Pittsburg State (Kans.), Sophomore, QB
In 2001 became the third QB in D-II history to pass (1,219) and
rush (1,004) for 1,000 or more yards.
2. Ian Smart, C.W. Post (N.Y.), Senior, RB
Needs 2,730 rushing yards (had 2,536 last year) to break the
all-division mark of 7,353 held by R.J. Bowers of Grove City
3. Kelby Klosterman, North Dakota, Senior, QB
Led Fighting Sioux to national title last season; threw 11 TD
passes in playoffs, more than any other quarterback.
4. Dallas Mall, Bentley (Mass.), Sophomore, WR
Caught more touchdown passes (24) in 2001 than any other
freshman at any level in NCAA history.
5. Eddie Acosta, Bemidji State (Minn.), Senior, RB
Set single-season school records last season for both rushing
yards (1,710) and rushing touchdowns (21).
"One minute you're playing the best football of your life. The
next you hear you might lose your leg."