A running back’s season is measured in yards, like the 1,547 Terrance Ganaway ran for at Baylor last year. But four years ago, the key distance for him was 33 miles, the length of the commute between Texarkana College and his hometown of DeKalb, Texas.
Texarkana is a community college with no football team, but that didn’t matter to Ganaway at the time. When he enrolled there in the fall of 2008, he had just lost the source of strength in his life, and he retreated home.
But Charlor Mae Ganaway, who died after a battle with kidney cancer at the age of 48, was also the reason her second-youngest son found his way to Baylor — back to football, and back on a path that led to him becoming a sixth-round draft pick of the Jets last month.
“It was nothing we said,” Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery recalled in a recent phone interview. “Terrance found some peace, and he really wanted to make his mom proud.”
Ganaway has always been driven by his mother, even in ways as simple as her undeniable presence at every one of his high school football games, cheering “Ganaway!” so loud her voice could be heard around the stadium.
When doctors found Ganaway had an enlarged heart early in high school, his mother encouraged him not to quit on his football dreams.
That’s why he knows his mother would have been so proud two weeks ago, when Ganaway got the call from coach Rex Ryan, surrounded by at least 50 friends and family members at a cookout at older brother Alonzo’s house in DeKalb. Somehow, Ganaway lasted until pick No. 202, and he’s hoping to reward the Jets with the humble and hungry attitude he credits to his mom.
“The best qualities in her, I think I have in myself,” Ganaway said. “Whatever I exemplify in my life is what she instilled in me. You see hard work, she was a hardworking woman. She was disciplined, she fought for her family, she fought for what she wanted. It’s the things that I do now. It’s almost second nature; almost a gene, actually, in my cells, in my DNA code.”
A FAMILY ALLY
After nearly walking away from the game, Ganaway now has the chance to compete for time in a young Jets backfield, supplementing starter Shonn Greene as another big back. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder excelled at Baylor as a downhill runner with a burst, big enough to run over defenders and fast enough to break away.
Ganaway set Baylor records with his single-season rushing total and 21 rushing touchdowns last season. On a team with Robert Griffin III, Ganaway was the star of the Alamo Bowl, running for 200 yards and a remarkable five touchdowns.
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Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn worked him out before the draft, and he deemed Ganaway’s interview one of the top three in Lynn’s 12 years as an assistant coach. His ability to pick up concepts, and teach them back, stood out. Ganaway, a consistent dean’s list honoree, called protections from the backfield to the line at Baylor, rare for a running back and a key to his keen awareness and field vision.
Transitioning to the NFL, of course, is another matter. But Ganaway has an ally: longtime NFL linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, his uncle.
They grew up more like cousins, living in nearby towns in East Texas. They slept over at each other’s houses and went to church together three times a week. Trotter’s dad owned a firewood business, and Ganaway and some of his brothers often helped out — chopping wood, stacking it and loading it onto trucks to be sold.
Trotter was in the midst of his 11-year NFL career when his nephew starred at DeKalb High School, a do-everything player who rushed for 2,815 yards his senior season. Trotter’s family members told him on the phone that Ganaway was something special, but it wasn’t until Trotter saw an online highlight video that he realized, “Man, this kid can run.”
Trotter believes Ganaway, 23, has the chance to be a “legit starting running back” in the league — and hopes his experience can take out some of the guesswork for his nephew. Ganaway planned to crash at Trotter’s South Jersey home this weekend on his drive from Texas to Florham Park, and Trotter was already cooking up a special-teams tutorial and tips on limiting blows to prolong his career.
It isn’t the first time Trotter has helped Ganaway at an important juncture in his life. Trotter, who was Charlor Ganaway’s half brother, saw how her death affected her eight children and her husband, Joe.
“She had been the motivation for that whole family, even for me,” Trotter said. “When they lost her, they lost everything. She was the rock that kept the family together, the rock that kept things going.”
'THE DARKEST HOUR'
Alonzo Ganaway said the children were never quite sure just how long their mom was stricken with cancer. She was the type to never let on that anything was bothering her. Before her diagnosis, she was living out a lifelong dream to drive 18-wheeler trucks.
But her health deteriorated when Terrance Ganaway was a freshman running back at the University of Houston. Charlor Ganaway was still determined to see her son play, even after surgery put her in a wheelchair. She and close to 50 family members made the 5½-hour drive to Houston for his first home game.
Charlor Ganaway died at home less than a year later, in July 2008. Terrance Ganaway was about to begin his sophomore year at Houston, but he headed home and enrolled at Texarkana College instead.
The period after she passed was his “darkest hour.” He lost his compass and needed to reorient his life. But he received encouragement from his father, his siblings, Trotter and his coaches at Houston, who later left for Baylor under head coach Art Briles.
“It hit him. He said, ‘Well, I’m just going to give up football.’ So he left that fall and came home to DeKalb,” his father, Joe Ganaway, said. “He got back in touch with Coach Briles, and he said, ‘Son, your mother wouldn’t want you to quit football.’ He did a good job staying humble. He stayed focused on what his mother would love for him to do.”
During his time back home, Terrance Ganaway reconnected with his Christian faith and ministered at the Oklahoma church where his father was a pastor for 21 years. When he was ready to return to college, he followed Briles and his staff to Baylor. Trotter, coincidentally, was about to make his comeback with the Philadelphia Eagles that same year, and he invited his nephew to New Jersey to train.
Terrance Ganaway’s return was not without bumps. His sophomore and junior season rushing totals — 200 and 295 yards, respectively — were almost equivalent to some of his weekly totals as a senior. But he won the starting job last spring, graduated early and started working on an MBA degree before he was drafted by the Jets.
When asked what his mom would say if she saw him now, Terrance Ganaway smiled and pointed over his shoulder. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?” he said softly.
As she always has, Charlor Ganaway drives her son, and that’s not about to change.
“She’s with me,” Terrance Ganaway said. “I know she’s proud of me, but I’ve just got to make sure I just keeping making her proud.”
Thanks for posting this article. While I want him to excel on the field and do well for the Jets, more important, I am rooting for this kid. He seems like his head is in the right place and is motivated to make his mother, and family, proud. My very best wishes....go Jets!!
[QUOTE]Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn worked him out before the draft, and he deemed Ganaway’s interview one of the top three in Lynn’s 12 years as an assistant coach. His ability to pick up concepts, and teach them back, stood out. Ganaway, a consistent dean’s list honoree, called protections from the backfield to the line at Baylor, rare for a running back and a key to his keen awareness and field vision.[/QUOTE]
Don't know much about the kid but liked the article and the above paragraph in particular. There's so much more to being a great player than size/speed/strength.
Watched the Jets' official post-rookie camp interview with this guy and was very impressed, FWIW. Loved the part where he was talking about running seven-on-sevens without pads and basically playing chicken with the safety -- who was going to pull up first. He said something like "In a real practice, I'd run him over. It ain't like I got a juke move." Loved that. Knows his limitations as well as his strengths. Straight line, freight train runner. His ability to pick up defenses and know where his blocks are is going to be his ticket to any kind of traction as an NFL back. Hope he studies hard!
[QUOTE=Buzzsaw;4467409]Don't know much about the kid but liked the article and the above paragraph in particular. There's so much more to being a great player than size/speed/strength.[/QUOTE]
Just by getting to the Jets camp Ganaway has shown maturity and fortitude to persevere in very difficult personal circumstances. Many others would have just quit. And he's bright given that he graduated early and was working on a graduate degree. So I think all that bodes well for his possible success as a pro.
He seems like a bright kid. If he can pick up blitz's and catch out of the backfield, we may have something. We need someone to replace LT and while Ganaway doesn't have LT's quickness, if he has some of LT's awareness and discipline, he could play a role this year.