Compounding matters was what seemed like an impossible mountain to climb: Securing playing time in a secondary that included some of the most talented DBs ever to wear crimson and gray.
There was Lamont Thompson. And Marcus Trufant. And Billy Newman, Erik Coleman, Jason David, Virgil Williams, Hamza Abdullah and Karl Paymah. All of them are in the NFL or came close to making it.
Teems got to where he didn't know if he wanted to play ball anymore.
He couldn't help but think his mom got sick because she always put herself behind the needs of Alex and his two siblings.
That thought was never far from mind.
But in her fight for life against malignant lymphoma of the sinuses, Teems began to find a source of strength. He looked at his mom, battling through chemotherapy and surgery, and marveled at her courage. She never stopped fighting, for even a moment.
Teems, who says he never would have made it to college without his mom's guidance and his dad's commitment, rededicated himself.
He began working harder, improving his foot speed and overall understanding of the Cougar defense. He spent more time in the film room, and got help in the classroom, too.
After redshirting in 2001, he played in four games in 2002 while sidelined much of the season with injuries, and then emerged as a special teams fixture and spot duty guy in the secondary in 2003.
His perseverance was slowly paying off, and the reward felt familiar.
"In Pop Warner I had to prove myself, in high school I didn't get any love at first," he remembers. "And up here the same thing."
He adds, "Being a Cougar means dedication, commitment, passion for school and the game."
TEEMS PLAYER: Had a career-high eight tackles (all solo) last season against Oregon and then matched it a week later vs. Stanford.
Perhaps not surprising given that his dad is a UPS driver, Teems delivered when thrust onto center stage. In the season opener at New Mexico he posted seven tackles, caused a fumble, picked off two passes and knocked down three more. Notice was served: This was his job and he was going to keep it.
The 5-11, 195-pound Teems is back for his final campaign as the only returning starter in the Cougars' secondary.
He's determined to carry the torch
passed down by Thompson, Trufant,
Coleman and the others.
"It's one more season to shine and set an example for the younger guys," says Teems.
He likes what he sees in those younger players, too. He says guys like Husian Abdullah, Eric Frampton, and Dada keep help keep him flying around at full speed because they work so hard.
He says he's ready for a big year. He's improved his speed and quickness, added 12 pounds since the start of last season and gotten stronger in his upper body and neck.
But what makes his mom proud, says the social sciences major, is the education he's receiving. And, he notes with a smile, mom is "healthy and doing great."
THE TEEMS FILE:
* As a high school senior he was an all-league pick at both running back and defensive back. Named pre-season All-American and picked to the Super Prep All-Far West team. As a junior he was named academic All-State and second team all-league on the field.
* Was one of five defensive backs in the Cougars' recruiting class of 2001. The others were Jeremy Bohannon, who completed his eligibility last season; Aaron Joseph, whose career ended at the start of last season following a series of concussions; and two others who left the program, Jevon Miller, Wes Patterson-Aumua.
* Uncle Jack Lightsy played football at UCLA.