It would be easy to pigeonhole Mike McCurdy (C'17) as Penn’s Troy Bolton. He plays sprint football! They won the championship! He also sings for Penny Loafers! A Troy Bolton for sure.
Mike isn't one to be easily categorized, though. He speculates that he is actually a different High School Musical character entirely: The Guy Who Makes Crème Brulee (Ed. note: a Google search reveals that his name is actually Zeke.). Yes, Mike McCurdy also bakes. And he’s pre–med. And he answers texts from random reporters very promptly. Maybe someone should write a musical about him?
One similarity Mike shares with Troy Bolton is they both wanted to be college athletes. When Mike was in high school, he was almost recruited by Penn to play football, but ultimately wasn't selected for the team. Once he got to Penn, he joined the sprint football team because he was small enough to qualify. Mike played for four years and was a captain for three of them.
The sprint football team differs from other football teams because each player must weigh less than 172 pounds. After four years on the team, Mike described the various methods he has used to make weight as mundane parts of his routine. Besides a strict diet and running, he wouldn’t even drink water before a weigh–in.
“I would go to the gym and go on the treadmill or the Stairmaster,” he said, “and sweat as much as possible.”
This year, the sprint football team was undefeated with a 7–0 record, and Mike was named Player of the Year. Mike didn’t mention the accolade, preferring to explain the quirks about sprint football that make it an exciting game—because each player is the same size, game plays can be more unexpected and move more quickly.
When Mike decides to do something, he commits with a steady intensity. Once, to make weight for football, he spit into a cup for two hours to dehydrate himself. In addition to playing sprint football for four seasons, he has volunteered with the West Philly Tutoring Project for eight semesters—his entire time at Penn. He committed to Penny Loafers the same way—and eventually became president—even though he had no previous experience singing in front of others.
Despite the lack of previous formal involvement, a cappella had piqued Mike's interest in college. He decided to audition for Penny Loafers after he learned a few of his frat brothers in Phi Delt were members of the group. They talked him through the audition process, encouraging him to try out. Prior to the audition, he had only sung alone in the shower—"I was born there," he joked—and in his bedroom. He tried out with the song “Ordinary People” by John Legend as a sophomore.
Singing a cappella hasn’t really conflicted with playing football. Except when, as Penny Loafers' President, Mike had to judge auditions that were scheduled at the same time as football practice. He had to skip football practice, and he was subsequently called out by his coach in an article by the DP.
Mike has tried to match the comfort level he feels on the football field with how he feels onstage.
“The first time we had a concert and I was singing on the stage by myself, I was terrified,” he said, although he spoke somewhat fondly of the memory. “And that’s never really happened to me in football. I feel pretty comfortable no matter what the situation is. I’ve been doing it all my life so it comes naturally, but with singing I was just legitimately terrified all the time.”
After college, Mike aspires to work in the medical field, ideally as an orthopedic surgeon for athletes. As Mike frequently had sports–related injuries growing up, he admired the doctors who tended to young players. “Being a team doctor one day would be really cool,” he said.
And if history is any indicator, in ten years, Mike will be an orthopedic surgeon moonlighting as an a cappella performer on the side who plays sprint football on the weekends.
In his own words...
Street: If you are what you eat, what are you?
Mike McCurdy: Probably a Lion from Lyn’s (Ed. note: this is an off-menusandwich with eggs, spinach, onions, and chicken.).
Street: If you are what what you eat when you’re making weight for sprint football, what are you?
MM: Um, wow good question. What do I eat? Like, nothing really. But I guess salad, if I have to.
Street: Say your life was an a cappella musical, who would write the lyrics?
MM: I’m gonna go with Bob Dylan. He’s probably my favorite songwriter straight–up. Not very a capella–y, but I think that would be better. I wouldn’t want someone being too a cappella with it because it can get annoying.
Street: Do you remember your first screenname?
MM: Screenname. Yeah, I do. Shakeandbake176.
Street: What’s cooler than being cool?
MM: Being unique. Yeah.
Street: What’s something that has changed about you since coming to Penn?
MM: Obviously the singing thing. But more than that, just getting out of my shell in general. Like, in high school I was really strict with just academics and sports and I was just like, ‘Get it done.’ Here, I really got to explore some others and meet some people I probably wouldn’t have met, especially through the whole performing arts community that I was never really a part of in high school. It kind of opened my eyes to a bunch of different stuff.
Street: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Mike McCurdy: I love making—what did I make that one time? Bolognese.
Street: True or false: jack of all trades, master of none?
MM: I would say false, I think people can be great at everything.