Terrance West

Terrance West had three touchdowns in Towson's rout of Colgate on Homecoming. "If he doesn't get hurt, you'll probably see West in the NFL," said Eric Woodson, West's coach at Northwestern High. (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox / September 24, 2011)

Rob Ambrose wasn't sure what to make of Terrance West when the freshman tailback first arrived at Towson last January, and he still wasn't sure what to do with West when the Tigers began their season earlier this month.

Even during the season opener against Morgan State, the coach's indecision about redshirting West lingered. West, who had spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia after graduating from Northwestern High School in 2009, dressed for the game but remained on the sideline throughout a 42-3 victory.

It was not just because the Tigers had depth and experience in the backfield. According to Ambrose, it was a question of "whether he was mature enough to handle it."


Get the Baltimore Football app for iPhone and Android

Some of those concerns remain, as evidenced by what Ambrose said last Saturday night when West rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns in Towson's 42-17 win over Colgate at Johnny Unitas Stadium. He was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week.

"When he's good, he's phenomenal, and I mean that in every aspect of his life," Ambrose said as West sat next to him during a post-game news conference. "When he's bad, he's impressive, and I mean that in every possible aspect of his life."

So far, West has been phenomenally good, and has played a significant role in Towson starting the season 3-0 for the first time since the Tigers won their first four games in 2006.

While West has scored five touchdowns in his first two college games — he had two in an upset of Villanova, then ranked 20th in the Football Championship Subdivision, on Sept. 10 — his role in this Saturday's game at Maryland is still up in the air.

"I just go out there and do my thing," West said after the Colgate game. "It doesn't matter if I start or not, second string or third. When I get on the field, I just do my part."

Even if he doesn't make the depth chart, as has happened the first two games, West can't wait for a chance to play the Terps. Through his junior year in high school, West thought he would wind up playing in College Park. But low SAT scores derailed those plans.

He wound up at Fork Union, getting up every day at 5 a.m. and moving far away from his mother, grandparents and 3-year-old son.

""Football season, it was cool, but after football season, it was straight military. Everything was clockwork. It was tough," West said. "I learned a lot of discipline there.I adjusted to the program. It was good."

He also forged a friendship with David Mackall, the former Edmondson star who is now starting at defensive end for Maryland. West said that his common bond with Mackall helped him — "That's how I got through," West said — but it became difficult when Mackall left after one semester and headed to Maryland.

West thought he would be joining Mackall, but after former Terps coach Ralph Friedgen was fired in December, West never heard from new coach Randy Edsall. When mention was made Saturday about Towson's next game being at Byrd Stadium — marking the first time the two schools will play — a smile lit up on West's face.

"I feel I owe them something," he said without a trace of bitterness. "This is a big step right here. This is a big stage."

Northwestern coach Eric Woodson believes his former star is ready for that stage.

Despite rushing for more than 5,000 yards in high school, West was overshadowed by Dunbar's Tavon Austin, now at West Virginia. Woodson said that had more to do with the reputations of the programs rather than the talents of the players.

"He is definitely a big Division I [Football Bowl Subdivision] player," said Woodson, whose first season at Northwestern coincided with West's freshman year. "He had something special about him, even as a ninth-grader, he was the first one on the field and the last one off. West worked his butt off."

Woodson said that West was upset and confused when Friedgen was fired, asking his former coach, "What am I going to do?"

After coming home from Fork Union, West went to work in a local mall.

Woodson said he told West, "It's not where you start, it's where you finish, and if you're good enough they're going to find you. … I told him that 'if Dave Meggett could come out of Towson, you can come out of Towson.' If he doesn't get hurt, you'll probably see West in the NFL. He's that kind of a stud."

Ambrose agrees, comparing West to Meggett, a former Towson teammate, as well as other great running backs he coached, including Tony Vinson at Towson as well Donald Brown and Terry Cauley at Connecticut.

"He's got scary talent," Ambrose said. "When he's focused, he's as good as I've ever seen."

That carries off the field as well.

""He knows that one day he will stop playing football and he needs this degree," Ambrose said. "He works as hard in the classroom as he does in the weight room. He's got a tremendous academic work ethic. That's something exciting because he knows he came from not having one."

But Ambrose saw during spring practice that West's focus wasn't always there. Even this week, Ambrose was worried that the attention West has received is a distraction.

"Because he's so young, his mental commitment to the game has been inconsistent," Ambrose said.

Initially viewed to be a short-yardage back because of his powerful build — he is 5 feet 11 and 220 pounds — West has proven to be more than that. His first four touchdowns came when the Tigers had the ball near the goal line, but his last one was a 22-yarder on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter against Colgate.

"If I go through all the guys I've coached or played with who went to the NFL, Terrance is unlike any other," Ambrose said. "He's an incredibly strong back. He has the ability to be both physical and elusive. I believe he has the skill set [to play in the NFL], but he's got a lot to do between now and then."

don.markus@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts