JACKSONVILLE — Those who would prevent the vertically and gravitationally challenged Demontez Terry from catching passes might stand taller, but they’ll never stay up later. Not if that’s what it takes for a 5-foot-8, 145-pound kid to play Division I football.
So Terry and uncle Jesse Feggins hit the gym in the wee smalls of the summer between Terry’s junior and senior year at Shades Valley High School. Offers weren’t coming, and they couldn’t make Terry the 6-foot-something, 200-and-something-pounder Division I coaches want in receivers.
They had to make Terry stronger and more conditioned.
“We would go work out at 1, 2 o’clock in the morning, for two or three hours, literally every night,” Feggins said. “We were trying to make sure we left no stone unturned, to kind of go after it and work when we knew other guys weren’t going to be working.”
It paid off with a chance to play for Jacksonville State. Four years later, a couple of concussions and lots of perseverance later, it’s paying off in play-making.
On a team where three of the six receivers listed on the two-deep stand 6-2 or taller, Terry enters fourth-ranked JSU’s Ohio Valley Conference game at Austin Peay on Saturday leading the Gamecocks with 19 receptions and 252 yards.
The 6-2 Krenwick Sanders is next closest with nine catches for 106 yards in four games.
Terry just had a career game, catching eight passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in JSU’s 34-7 rout of Tennessee Tech this past Saturday. It marked his first 100-yard game and the ninth-best yards-receiving total in school history.
“It feels good to finally get the ball thrown your way and just make play after play,” Terry said. “This is what I’ve been working hard for, to get the ball and make plays, man.
“I like making those plays.”
The wait just makes him like it more.
Terry didn’t see action as a freshman in 2013. He redshirted in 2014 then again in 2015, all because concussions he suffered in practice.
In what Terry called “a freak accident,” former cornerback Lawon DeBardelaben’s hand hit him in the back of the helmet. Another time, Terry tested the middle against All-American safety Marlon Bridges.
“He decleated me,” Terry said. “He was a freshman, just trying to prove himself to everybody.”
Terry spent three days in the hospital from that one, but he wasn’t done. Far from it, and that’s what teammates like so much about him.
“I’ve been here the whole time that ‘Tez’ has, and I’ve seen that man take some hits,” All-America offensive tackle Justin Lea said. “He’s been told, ‘You’re never going to play the game again,’ those type of things.
“To see him keep coming back each offseason and put in the work, I think he’s reaping the success of that this year. All you have to do is get the man in space, and he’s going to make plays.”
As JSU coach John Grass describes it, Terry “plays with a chip on his shoulder.”
Those who knew Terry when say it runs deeper.
Feggins and another uncle, Edward Terry, were Demontez’s coaches. Feggins coached him with the youth-league Irondale Titans and Irondale Middle School and said Demontez’s “chip” was always competitiveness, and matters of size only stoke it.
“Even before football, just him being a little kid, he’s always been a super competitive guy,” Feggins said. “He had the type of work ethic about himself that, it’s rare to get a chance to be around that.”
Demontez was the small kid who gladly took on kids 30 to 40 pounds heavier in practice and in games. The spectacle won him a following.
“People just loved to see, like, this little small guy battling giants and winning, not just sometimes but most of the time, to where you always expected him to come up with that big play,” Feggins said. “That big tackle, that big catch is what he was really known for.”
When he came home, he was the kid who gladly worked more with his uncles. Anything to get stronger, be in better condition, be able to win a ball in the air and play at his optimum level longer.
“We pushed him in a way that, he told us he wanted to be great,” Feggins said. “He didn’t just want to play football. He wanted to be great it.
“We both thought he had potential to be great. It’s just wrapped in a smaller package.”
Though Demontez’s uncles coached him on the lower levels, they continued to work with him at Shades Valley, their alma mater. As much as they worked through the years, it took a little more to uncross the arms of college coaches.
Hence, those late nights in the gym between Demontez’s junior and senior year.
“You know, 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, that’s where his mindset was, going into his senior year,” Feggins said. “I want to be out here chasing something while everybody else is resting.
“It paid off with him getting that opportunity to go to Jacksonville State and play ball.”
That same mindset started to pay off in playing time in 2016. He caught 13 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns, two against Coastal Carolina.
Likely JSU Hall of Famer Josh Barge graduated, leaving the Gamecocks looking for the next go-to playmaker. At 6-7, Jamari Hester stood out. Sanders and Shaq Davidson — who transferred from Wisconsin and South Carolina, respectively — were intriguing prospects.
Who knew the 5-8 guy who worked his summers away in high school would emerge from the slot position to be the guy?
Demontez’s quickness makes him a matchup headache for nickel corners, but something else makes him special.
“This is about the best way that I can sum Tez up to you, as somebody who has been with him from the beginning,” Feggins said. “Why I would put him against a 6-foot-3, 200-pound corner and expect him to come out on top most of the time, if you lock him up in man coverage with him, is because that guy 6-3 200 pounds, and out of his 200 pounds his heart is 5 pounds? Tez is going to bring 150 pounds of heart to that competition.
“He’s going to still be wanting it when you’ve given up and think you got the best of him.”