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Nevada's Kaymen Cureton makes switch to defense, sees 'legendary' future

Kaymen Cureton started two games at quarterback for Nevada but now has his eye on a starting spot in the Wolf Pack secondary. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)
Kaymen Cureton started two games at quarterback for Nevada but now has his eye on a starting spot in the Wolf Pack secondary. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)
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Kaymen Cureton had a tough decision to make coming out of high school.

He could go to a blueblood program as a defensive player, with offers from Alabama, LSU, Florida, South Carolina and Baylor. Or he could buck those big schools and try and be a college quarterback, with his top options being Nevada and New Mexico. Cureton said it was difficult to turn down the SEC to head to the Mountain West, but the dream was to play quarterback, so the decision was made.

“My dad said, ‘What have we been training for all these years? We’ve been training for quarterback?’ So that’s what we went with,” Cureton said of his decision to commit to Nevada on signing day in 2017.

Two years and two college starts at quarterback later and Cureton is on the defensive side of the ball during Nevada’s spring camp, where Alabama, LSU and Florida, among others, first envisioned him. Cureton has no regrets about trying to break into college as a quarterback, but he also has that desire out of his system now. He’s all in on defense.

“It’s gone,” Cureton said of the itch to play quarterback. “I think it’s completed gone. Playing with guys like (Nevada linebacker) Gabe (Sewell), those people are insane. All these guys are insane. They want to murder these dudes out there, so I say, ‘Cool. If I’m on this side of the ball I’m going to do the same.’”

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Cureton, from Lawndale, Calif., was persuaded to switch to defense by coordinator Jeff Casteel, who first made the pitch prior to Nevada’s bowl game against Arkansas State in December. Cureton was third on Nevada's quarterback depth chart last season and probably would have been fighting just to stay there if he stayed on offense. But he could start on defense at safety as Nevada lost all of three of its starters.

“Kaymen has such high character and high integrity,” head coach Jay Norvell said. “He works so hard and he’s always trying to get better. The biggest thing we need over there is maturity because we lost so much maturity with our senior safeties last year. Kaymen gives us that kind of a mature player. He takes everything the coaches ask him to do and tries to put it on the field. We’re really proud of his progress.”

Cureton is the only offensive-turned-defensive player in the safety corps. Tyson Williams, a former running back/receiver; Daiyan Henley, a former receiver; Isaiah Hamilton, a former running back; and Austin Arnold, a former receiver, also are fighting for starting jobs at safety. It’s an unusual mix considering each started their college careers on offense, but it’s also a highly athletic group.

“It’s a huge advantage to have played both sides of the ball because you understand the game a little bit deeper,” Norvell said. “You understand how offenses try and attack you. I think it’s a huge advantage for Daiyan and KC and Tyson because they were offensive players and have looked at it from both sides.”

Cureton might have the most potential in that group given how highly regarded he was as a defender coming out of college. He got some snaps at safety as a sophomore and junior in high school before focusing fully on quarterback as a senior. But he grew up playing defense as a youth.

“Almost a reckless abandonment,” Cureton said of his style. “I played nose guard when I was in Pop Warner. I love to hit, I love to be aggressive, I love the energy. This is more me. It fits my personality.”

Cureton envisions himself as a defensive leader, a belief reiterated by the coaching staff. Those leadership skills made Norvell comfortable starting him as a true freshman quarterback. Cureton started against FCS school Idaho State, a game the Wolf Pack lost, and the Pac-12’s Washington State, a game he was pulled from after a couple of series. Cureton didn’t see the field as a quarterback again, which played a role in him finally agreeing to a move to safety, which he thinks will behoove him in the future.

“Small talks with Coach Casteel here and there,” Cureton said of the move. “He wanted me to do it before the bowl game. I was denying it. I was like, ‘No, I’m good.’ But I came to my senses, I guess. I felt like it was better for a professional move and playing at the next level. I’m having fun with it now.”

Cureton has made a positive impression this spring, although it’s also clear he has a lot of learning to do, which is understandable given how big of a change he’s making. David Lockwood, the Wolf Pack’s second-year secondary coach, said Cureton’s athleticism is a bonus and he’s been a willing listener.

“He’s an athlete and obviously it’s a big learning curve for him, running backwards and doing those types of things, and formation recognition, but he has a great attitude and he’s getting better,” Lockwood said. “He might make a mistake but his effort and everything has been good. The tough thing about defensive football is it’s reaction football and you have to cover a lot of ground and so forth, so it makes it a little tougher. But he should have a good foundation.”

Cureton said Lucas Weber, a former running back turned linebacker, has been a huge help in his transition. Weber’s advice to Cureton was to get in the film room so he was as knowledgeable about the system as possible so he doesn’t have to think and can just react. Once Cureton gets that down, he sees a bright future.

“I’m being granted with a new opportunity to make plays and be aggressive and I feel like I can be dominant at this position,” Cureton said. “I can almost be legendary at this position.”

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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