GREENSBURG, Ky. – Ivan Curnutte, an Ashland Tomcat football great from the 1950s who went on to play at the University of Kentucky with coach Bear Bryant, died on Feb. 3, 2021 at the Northwest Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. He was 85.
Curnutte, who starred for the Tomcats in 1951 and 1952, was a hard-charging halfback who rushed for 1,824 yards and 15 touchdowns as the feature back for coach Charlie Eblen.
He went on to UK to play with his brother Delmas “Duke” Curnutte, a former Tomcat lineman who was recruited by Bryant to play at UK. Bryant went to Texas A&M after the 1953 season at UK and was replaced by Blanton Collier.
Ivan Curnutte started the Green County High School football program in Greensburg, Ky., in 1962 and was the school athletic director and assistant principal from 1975 until 1988 when he retired as an educator. He also coached two seasons at Louisa High School in 1958 and 1959 when his teams finished 6-4 and 4-6.
As a Tomcat, he was the leading rusher in 13 of 21 games. Two of his best performances came against Ironton. He ran for a career-high 208 yards in a 37-12 victory over the Tigers as a senior and had 103 yards in a 20-19 win over Ironton at home as a junior.
Curnutte also had outstanding games against Portsmouth with 124 yards in a 34-13 win over the Trojans as a junior and gained 106 yards in a 28-25 loss to the Trojans in Putnam Stadium to close out his Tomcat career.
He ran for 807 yards at 6.2 per carry as a junior on a team that finished 6-5 under Eblen. In the season opener, Curnutte returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Catlettsburg. Eph Woods had taken the kick and when he saw a defender coming at him, lateraled to Curnutte, who went the rest of the way to the end zone. Woods couldn’t avoid the collision and suffered a broken leg on the play.
The 1951 team include All-State guard Jerry Clark and standouts Tom Gates, John Johnson, Charlie Webb and Don Clere. Bill Carter, Rex Miller and Bob Sang joined Eblen on the coaching staff.
The Tomcats were 6-2-2 in Curnutte’s senior season in 1952, tying the first two games of the season by identical 7-7 scores against Catlettsburg and Stonewall Jackson.
Curnutte rushed for 1,017 yards and averaged 8.3 per carry with 10 touchdowns as a senior. Eblen and the same coaching staff returned.
Earl “Brother” Adkins was his backfield running mate during his senior season. Better known for his basketball prowess, Adkins was nifty on the football field too, rushing for 601 yards.
Curnutte was a first-team All-State running back as named by the Paducah Sun. Guard Bob Stambough also made the first team by the Paducah Sun. Lineman Clyde Cordle, quarterback Mickey Hemlepp and running back Clere were other standouts.
Curnutte’s funeral is Thursday in Greensburg with visitation on Wednesday. He is survived by Della Curnutte, his wife of 64 years, a son Michael Dean “Alfie” Curnutte of Greensburg, three grandchildren, a great-grandson and a sister, Camilla Jo Tussey (wife of Mike Tussey). Another son, Anthony Ellis “Tony” Curnutte, preceded him in death in 2007 along with his brother Duke Curnutte in 2018.
Duke Curnutte’s son, Steve Curnutte, led the 1971 Tomcats to an 11-2 season. Steve was a quarterback and hard-hitting defensive back who went on to play at Vanderbilt and was drafted in the 17th round of the 1976 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.