When Eric Woodson arrived as the football coach at Northwestern High School in 2005, his struggling new program had never had much of an offseason workout schedule. So that year, Woodson began summer training. He was always the second person on campus around 6:30 every morning, ahead of 7 a.m. practices.
The first was already on the field working. He was an incoming freshman running back named Terrance West.
What Woodson didn't know was that every morning West had been riding his bike in the summer heat from his home in Reservoir Hill, around Druid Hill Park, up Park Heights Avenue, to get to practice. West made the six-plus-mile trip every day. Woodson was stunned when his players told him.
"I've got kids that live right around the corner, and they can't get here in time," he recalled thinking. "And this kid is beating me here in the morning."
West, now 25, has surprised a few more people on a winding path back to the hometown Baltimore Ravens. After a strong offseason following a forgettable six-game stint with the Ravens last year, he'll try to make the team again when training camp begins this month.
West piled up almost 5,000 total yards at Northwestern and then broke the Football Championship Subdivision single-season rushing record in 2013 at Towson. But his latest stop in Baltimore brings a different West, one with more mileage on his body but also more experience, more stability and two newborn twins in his family.
Last month, when he jogged off the Ravens' practice field in Owings Mills for the final practice of minicamp, he couldn't wait to get home and see his twin girls, Lyric and Harmony.
After the Tennessee Titans cut West last November, West was running low on chances to stick in the NFL. He signed with the Ravens' practice squad, and then injuries to Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro thrust him onto the active roster. West ran 46 times for 180 yards in the Ravens' final six games.
With West back home, he has a city of people who have been rooting for him since his early days.
"I don't know them other backs, but I know West," said Woodson, who is now the football coach at Glen Burnie High. "And one thing I can say about West is, West is going to work. I'm sure [the other running backs] work hard, but if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on West."
When West left Northwestern, he had the talent — but not the SAT score — to succeed at the college level. He spent one year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy to qualify academically and then worked at a shoe store in 2010, sitting out of football before Towson took a chance on him. That year, Alphonso Mayo paid a visit to West at the shoe store.
As a senior at Northwestern, Mayo split carries with the freshman West, and he couldn't believe his friend was already out of football. During their playing days, Mayo had told West that out of the two of them, one would make it in football. Mayo assured West at the shoe store he'd be playing with his character on the Madden video game one day.
"And at the time, it seemed really far-fetched," Mayo said.
Three years later, Mayo went to Towson to watch West — by then a presumptive NFL Draft pick — break the FCS rushing record (West ended that season with 2,509 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns). After the game, he told West he was happy the one who would make it was going to be West.
In the 2014 draft, the Cleveland Browns traded up to take West in the third round. He clashed with the coaching staff, and the Browns traded him to Tennessee for merely a seventh-round pick the following year. But the Titans cut him in November after only two appearances.
Just days later, West landed back where he started, in Baltimore. Despite a rocky start to his career, the 5-foot-10, 225-pounder believes he has what it takes to hold up over a full season.
"Just work hard," West said. "I've never been a slacker — always worked hard. Everything else will take care of itself."
The Ravens' running backs corps is back healthy this year, with Forsett, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon near-locks to make the team. But West also came into the offseason training program in great shape, impressing coaches with his strength and agility even during organized team activities and minicamp.
"Terrance has done a great job," coach John Harbaugh said when the team broke minicamp last month. "I'll tell you, I would say he's in the best shape of his life. I think he'd tell you that. … I think he's really done a good job with improving on this spring, and I can't wait to see him in training camp."
West feels more comfortable this summer than after his impromptu arrival last fall, when less than three weeks passed between the day he signed and his first game appearance. He spent the offseason in his hometown, studying the playbook and preparing for a full season.
"I played ball here from Pop Warner, high school, college, now NFL, so it's just a blessing," West said. "It's meant to be."
Woodson, one of the many people West has shocked along the way, agrees with him. West drives his own car now, but his old coach still thinks of him as the first kid to pull into Northwestern High School every morning on his bike.