Turnaround Kid

Jumbo senior Curtis Yancy figured out how to balance academics and sports—and thrived

Curtis Yancy on the football field against Colby

Curtis Yancy didn’t have much when he arrived at Tufts in the fall of 2009. While other classmates unloaded U-Hauls and decorated their dorm rooms, Yancy showed up with a few bags of clothes and a laptop. He was excited, but uncertain about this next chapter in his life.

Yancy, A13, had grown up in poverty in North St. Louis County in Missouri. His family life was marred by domestic violence and drugs. But his potential as a student and an athlete had created opportunities. An elementary school teacher helped steer him out of a failing school district and into the prestigious Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS). Guided by the strength and support of his mother, Christina Candillo, Yancy achieved the academic potential that his teacher had recognized in him.

The contrast between his neighborhood and the school that represented a way out couldn’t have been sharper. “Those two different cultures clashed,” he says. “I was able to see the best of the best and the worst of the worst. That definitely defined me.”

Tufts would be another opportunity that he would seize, but not right away. Because of his background, he initially felt like an outsider. “Curtis appreciates the opportunities that he’s had,” says Tufts football coach Jay Civetti. “He shows that with the effort that he gives and expects when it’s time to get down to business. He’s very social and fun, but he’s also very serious as a student and a leader in our program.”

At MICDS, Yancy’s performance in the classroom and on the field drew the attention of schools in the Ivy League, Patriot League and NESCAC. He was an all-star in two sports, a defensive end in football and a thrower on the track and field team. Yancy chose Tufts because, he says, it offered the best balance between academics and athletics.

Yet as a freshman, he struggled. With football in the fall, indoor track and field in the winter and outdoor track and field in the spring, he was never out of season. Though he had competitive success, playing varsity football and scoring in the shot put at the conference championship meet, he could not get on track academically.

“Freshman year was my worst year in terms of academics,” he says. “I was not proud of that. I knew that I could not let that happen again. I didn’t come to this great institution to lose sight of my academic goals for the future.”

He showed his commitment to academics by deciding to not play football as a sophomore. He says it gave him time to mature and refocus on what it was going to take to succeed as a three-season athlete. Procrastination was no longer an option. His grades improved dramatically.

The Proper Mix

Everything came together for his junior year: he was ready to lead on the gridiron and in track and field. He started most football games at defensive end and was one of the team’s leading tacklers. Though the Jumbos did not win a game, the unity of the team was something that Yancy had missed while he was away.

“There’s really nothing like football,” he says. “There’s nothing else in the world where you can build that sense of team camaraderie. You train with the team, work hard, sweat with those guys. You go out on the field and go to war with another team physically. Everyone’s fighting their own battle for the team.”

Though wins have been hard to come by, he says he is part of something special. “We need to keep on playing the way we’re coached,” he says. “Just follow Coach Civetti and his staff in what they’re doing with the team. What they’re doing is amazing. The way we work, how hard we work. I know that as long as we follow them, we’re going to get those wins.”

The strength and explosion needed in the track and field throwing events has always come naturally to Yancy, who has emerged as a team leader and is one of the region’s top throwers. He won the ECAC Division III Championship in the weight throw in New York City last March, and was elected a captain for the 2012–13 team.

“Curtis is exactly the type of athlete you want on your team,” says his track and field coach, Ethan Barron, G05. “He’s a big-meet performer. The higher the stakes, the more the team needs Curtis, the more focused and locked in he becomes. Curtis is a natural leader with the ability to talk with his teammates one-on-one or lead a full team meeting. His work ethic commands respect from all those around him and sets a tone that makes our team better.”

As a track and field captain, he will be at the team’s practice on the Monday after football season ends on Saturday. He’s figured out how to navigate a rigorous academic schedule while competing in three sports. A psychology major, he wants to become a school counselor and help others get the same opportunities he has had.

“I would like to work in an area similar to that I grew up in,” he says. “I want to help kids coming from hard situations and let them know that it is possible to break the cycle.”

The student who showed up with hardly anything three years ago will graduate next spring.

“These years at Tufts have meant so much to me,” Yancy says. “I’ve met some great people that I hope to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. I have learned some things about myself and the world around me that I will never forget. Receiving that diploma will mark the completion of a goal I set for myself when I was seven years old.”

Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.

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