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Headline: Overcoming The Odds
There are success stories in life, and then there is Curtis Terry of Cleveland Glenville High School.
Nearly against all odds, Terry signed a letter of intent on Feb. 4 to become a member of Ohio State's 2004 recruiting class, and he hasn't stopped pinching himself or preparing for his future since.
"Things have really been going great for me, man," Terry said. "I'm glad that it's behind me now and I know that I have somewhere to go. I'm just going to class now, and I'm trying to stay on the right path so I could be ready to go down there."
Terry, who verbally committed to OSU coach Jim Tressel on the last Sunday in January just days before signing day, is on track to graduate in June and then he'll make his way to Columbus, where he'll begin to work out with his future teammates.
"This is a dream and I'm just happy to be here. I'm just going to go down there and give it 110 percent," Terry said. "The first thing is to get my education and then if I get a shot to go to the NFL, I'll take it. But if it doesn't work out like that, at least I'll have my education."
His future wasn't always as certain or as promising as it now. Terry had family problems as far back as middle school but everything really came to the forefront around the time that he entered Collinwood High School in Cleveland.
"First my mother moved and I had to live with my father and he wasn't stable. We had problems," Terry said. "So I bounced around in my first year of high school."
Then his aunt took him in for a while in his sophomore year and Terry nearly became an honor roll student for the first quarter at Collinwood. He was also the starting quarterback for the Railroaders that season. But his life around him still wasn't very stable. Things really started to get bad for Terry in the second half of his sophomore year.
"I was homeless and I didn't have anybody to look after me and my grades dropped, drastically," he said. "I really didn't care anymore. I was like, 'Don't nobody else care so why should I?' "
His mother was in prison and his dad was in Texas at the time so Terry went to live in Texas, where he tried to enroll in high school there. But he wasn't able to.
"(Collinwood) said that they couldn't release my transcripts without a parent coming up to the school," said Terry, who stayed in Texas from August of what would have been the start of his junior year until he was back home in Ohio by Halloween. "My mother was incarcerated and my father was in Texas. So I couldn't get in school down there and I had to come back."
Terry took refuge with a friend, Corritha Wells, when he returned to Cleveland. By that time he missed the first half of that school year completely and didn't play any football at all, but he returned to Collinwood for the remainder of that year and then for the following school year as well.
"She took me in and was very helpful. Without her, I don't know what I would be doing right now," Terry said. "She already had seven kids but she treated me no different than the others. She kept clothes on my back, food in my mouth and a roof over my head."
However, it was when he was staying with the Wells' family that Terry's personal life really hit rock bottom.
"I can tell you the exact point," he said. "My lowest point was when my I lost my grandfather. He was the only one consistent thing in my life and I felt that I was so alone without him. I felt like the world had just ended. I really didn't even want to go on. It was so hard. My father wasn't around, my mother was still in jail and there was really nobody that I could turn to."
But Terry persevered and entered his senior year, and he was back on the gridiron again. As luck would have it, Terry played about a game and a half before he suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out for the rest of the season. But that injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"As soon as I messed my ankle up, my godfather, William Montoya, wrote a letter to the OHSAA commissioner and sent in my transcripts and Clair Muscaro granted me a half-year eligibility," Terry said. "Later in the year when I was at the Collinwood-Glenville game, I had seen Coach (Ted) Ginn walking on the field and I gave him the paperwork and told him I was coming. He said, 'OK.' "
Terry was supposed to go to Glenville coming from middle school but he knew a teacher at Collinwood that knew that Terry was a decent athlete and that teacher asked him to come there.
"I used to catch the bus every morning when I was in middle school to come to Glenville and lift weights with the team," he said. "I tried to transfer several times over the years, but every time I tried to transfer I wasn't able to get in."
In hindsight, Terry wishes he could have been at Glenville the entire time. But he doesn't regret the alternate route he took in any way.
"Everything has seemed to work out for the best," he said. "Through all of my trials and tribulations, I feel that all of that stuff I've gone through has helped me and it will come in handy in life."
Nonetheless, he's thankful to Ginn for being there when he needed him the most.
"I owe him the world," Terry said. "Without him, none of this would be possible. He accepted me at Glenville with open arms and treated me like I had been with him for four years. I feel very fortunate and lucky. I'm just happy to be here."
At so many different times along the way, he could have very easily gone the wrong way but didn't. Terry has friends that have died, friends that got shot doing the wrong thing and friends that are in jail, and yet he has managed to walk the straight and narrow.
"I have friends that smoked or drank but they would never let me get into that," Terry said. "Not that I wanted to, but they wouldn't let me go out with them. They told me, 'Stay at the house, you're going to make it.' They wouldn't let me go out with them or hang with them, nothing."
To be able to come from where he's been to where he's at now, Terry feels like he's destined for greatness in some way.
"I hope so. I want to go to the NFL. I've been through all of this, so why stop now," he said. "But if that doesn't work out, I want to be involved with some type of big brother organization or get involved in rec centers so kids can have somewhere to go or somewhere to be instead of out in the streets. I know it's hard with no parents. It's real easy to get turned on to the wrong things."
After going through life so aimlessly at one point, Terry can now see the light at the end of the tunnel in his own life.
"I definitely can see it. It always was there but it just took some work to get to it," Terry said. "But I haven't arrived yet and I'm just trying to work hard."
His future is keenly focused on football and getting a good education while he's at Ohio State.
"I just want to help the team in any way," he said. "If it turns out that I become one of the top players, then I'll gladly accept that role. I feel like I'm a leader. I have a lot to offer."
And he still has a lot to prove to both himself and others who might be wondering how he even ended up at Ohio State.
"A lot of people say that I'm not even supposed to be there and the only reason why I'm going is that it's a favor to Coach Ginn. Well, I'm going to show them," Terry said. "I can't do anything else but show them that I deserve to be there."
Obviously, Tressel thought he belonged at Ohio State because he was the one who personally offered Terry a scholarship when he went there for his official visit late in the recruiting season.
"The highlight for everything was when I had breakfast with Coach Tressel and he told me that we weren't getting up from the table until I decided what number I was going to wear," said Terry, who was joined there by Tressel's wife and Coach (Mel) Tucker. "That was probably the single greatest moment in my life. So we started going down the list to see what numbers were open until we decided on No. 44. I was just stunned. I didn't know what to think or what to say."
But Terry did know the first person that he needed to call after got the offer.
"I called Coach Ginn, of course, and talked to him," he said. "Then everybody just kept calling me and said they heard the news. I just was stunned."
And ever since that time his confidence has grown and his own ambitions and expectations have changed.
"At first, I thought I would come down there and just sit on the sideline and learn the system," Terry said. "But I've been down there a couple of times and I've met the players and I feel like I could play. Even if it's just like rushing the passer on third downs or being on special teams, I feel like I can get on the field probably."
He's continued to train hard to prepare to make the most of his opportunity at Ohio State.
"Since the last football game I've gained about 20 pounds," said Terry who stands 6-2 and weighs in now at 211 pounds and runs a 4.48 40-yard dash. "I lift weights every day and I run a little bit to stay in shape and I'm doing drills with the track team here to stay in shape."
Terry has lived with his dad since the beginning of the school year and his mom could be released from prison anytime between June and December, so Terry naturally has dreams of some kind of family reunion at some point. But in the meantime, he dreams about his future at Ohio State.
"I just think about how grateful I am to have this opportunity and how I don't want to mess it up," Terry said. "I just keep thinking of ways to get better. Everybody wants to go to Ohio State and I'm one of the lucky few that actually gets to. If I go down there and I mess up, it's just going to mess it up for the next kid that is in my situation who is borderline and was working hard.
"So I feel like I have to set the example and show them that I can do
the work, and I can come down there and not be a problem and do what I have to
do so the next kid can have a chance."