FRISCO, Texas -- When running back Terrance West first knocked on the door of coach Rob Ambrose’s office at Towson, he wasn’t at the beginning of a journey, nor was he at the conclusion of one.
West, a native of Baltimore, was smack dab in the middle of an incredible, winding odyssey.
Looking from the outside, no one knew how it would end up. But in his mind, West already had written the next chapter. All he had to do was find a place to live it out.
“He was a local city kid. We were getting close to our roster limit at the time, and we [as coaches] were like, ‘What do you think of this guy?’ And I thought, ‘How am I not going to take a Baltimore kid like this?’ Terrance was clearly talented.”
On the eve of the NCAA Division I FCS national championship game, Ambrose is glad that he opened the Towson door and let West run full-speed through it. With West spearheading their offense, the Tigers (13-2) will take on two-time defending champion North Dakota State (14-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Stadium.
West ran for a FCS playoff-record 354 yards and also added five touchdowns in Towson’s 35-31 semifinal win against Eastern Washington. That boosted his rushing totals for the season to 2,410 yards on 391 attempts for an average gain of 6.2 yards and 40 touchdowns. He also has caught 21 passes for 219 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Ask West to describe himself as a running back, and he doesn’t hold back.
“I’m patient, physical, smart, fun to be around. I’m just an all-around back,” he said. “I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can even throw it. Whatever you want me to do, I can do it.”
But on that blustery Baltimore day in January of 2011 when West came knocking on Ambrose’s door, West had nowhere to display all those skills.
“I had a long journey out of high school,” said West, who rushed for more than 6,000 yards in his career at Northwestern High in Baltimore. “I went to prep school at Fork Union Military Academy. I went there for a year to get my SAT scores up. Then I went back home and had to sit out a season because I wasn’t getting any offers.
“I was getting looked at by Clemson, but that process didn’t go through. I tried to walk on at Morgan State, but the paperwork didn’t go through by the deadline. I tried to walk on at Maryland in College Park, but then the coaches got fired. I just wanted to play somewhere, so then I called up Towson and I walked on.”
Ambrose was impressed right off with West’s attitude and determination, noting that West rose every day at 3 a.m. to make sure he never missed a spring morning workout.
“His first semester, his spring semester, he was living in the city,” Ambrose said. “He couldn’t afford to live on campus. His only way to go to school was to take two buses to get to school. And we don’t practice easy now. We practice at 5:00 in the morning in the spring for a lot of different reasons.
West didn’t take long to prove he belonged, rushing for 1,294 yards and 29 touchdowns while averaging 6.9 yards per carry as a freshman. One year after the team had gone 1-10, he helped Towson go 9-3 overall and win the Colonial Athletic Association with a 7-1 record in the conference.
Ambrose rewarded West with a full scholarship after the season. West’s numbers went down a bit as a sophomore (1,051 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns), but this season he has taken his game to an entirely new level.
“He has matured as a player and a person, and his maturity has showed on the field,” Ambrose said of the 5-foot-11, 223-pound West. “His commitment and knowledge of the game has grown from just taking the ball to understanding what the other team is trying to do to us while he has the ball.”
Opponents certainly have taken notice, including North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl. When it was noted that Bohl has faced top running backs many times previously during his 11 seasons at NDSU, and he was asked where West would rank, Bohl was quick with his reply.
“He’s at the top of the list, and his numbers bear that out,” the coach said.
Then Bohl explained, “You have a guy that’s 220 pounds, and has been productive all year long. He’s not a scatback. He’s a powerful runner. He sees the field well, and their offensive line blocks well for him. Containing him will be the whole key for us [in Saturday’s title game].”
Now a junior, West said he has no regrets about the football journey he has taken. He has said he will decide after Saturday’s game whether he’ll return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft -- but whatever happens, he insisted that the circuitous route he has taken thus far has made him a better player and person.
He said he credits his coaches and teammates -- especially his massive offensive line -- with helping him post this season’s incredible numbers. But he said he knows there are other reasons he has excelled, and for those he humbly credits himself.
“I never gave up,” West said. “That’s the main thing I see with a lot of kids. They give up because things don’t go their way. That’s what life is about -- not about things not going your way, but about you and what you want out of life. I knew I had the talent to do it; I just had to keep working hard. I knew I would get the opportunity because I worked so hard.
“I came a long way. … A lot of people would have given up -- but I pushed through it.”