Winning the Class 5 State Championship his sophomore year was easily the greatest accomplishment of Jackson senior defensive end Tony Terry Jr.’s career on the gridiron thus far.
However, that state title doesn’t compare to having what the Kansas verbal commit described as what has been a true blessing in his life off the field.
Terry, who will graduate early from Jackson in December, is the father to a 14-month-old son named Tony Terry III. Tony likes to call him Trey.
“He’s so great — I love him, and I couldn’t ask for a better kid,” Terry said. “It means everything that he’s in my life right now. People talk about their ‘why,’ and he’s my why.”
While the joys of fatherhood easily outweigh any negatives, this still isn’t an easy scenario for a 17-year-old who has his final season of high school football right around the corner.
Rather than relaxing, playing video games, hanging out with friends and going on dates when he’s not doing something football related like any of his teammates have had the luxury of doing the past 14 months, Terry has a responsibility to his son.
“It’s great, but I’ve got to work when I don’t have football,” Tony explained. “I go to football in the morning, then I work, and then I go home to him. It’s a long day, but it’s definitely doable, and I love every minute of it.
“For me personally, it’s a lot harder because I do construction — build houses, lay concrete, put up frames. It’s a struggle for anybody, but being in school and everything… it’s definitely a struggle.”
Luckily, Terry isn’t left to take care of Trey all by himself, though, as his parents and stepparents baby-sit whenever Tony is away with football, work or school. They are also, of course, always there whenever the Tonys need them.
“They are always there 24/7, and they’d be happy to just take him as their own,” Terry laughed. “They watch him so much for me whenever I can’t when I’m at football or work. It’s really great, and I’m really grateful.”
One of the main reasons why Terry decided to continue his football career at Kansas — besides it being a Power Five conference — was because of how accepting the program was to his situation.
“One week after they offered me, I committed because it felt like home there,” Terry said. “Everything was nice and smooth — they took in my family and really made it feel like home. … There were no bumps in the road at all, so I felt like Lawrence was the place.”
As a highly-sought recruit in the Midwest, Tony fielded 12 other Division-I offers before the Jayhawks came calling: Arkansas State, Central Michigan, Eastern Illinios, Illinois State, Kansas State, Kent State, New Mexico State, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri State, Utah State and Western Illinois.
Terry has been nothing short of a force on Jackson’s defense the past two seasons, which has recorded six shutouts while only allowing an average of 11.3 points per game during the span.
Along the way, Tony has garnered Class 5 All-Region and SEMO All-Conference honors in the process by racking up a combined 143 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, six sacks and eight blocked kicks as a starter. Terry also finished with a career-high nine pass deflections his sophomore year.
Even though Terry is physically gifted and has the ideal height and weight at his position of defensive end at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he puts a lot of time and effort into trying to perfect his craft. One thing Tony does besides practicing and working on different techniques to beat offensive lineman is by watching current NFL Pro Bowlers Aaron Donald and Chase Young’s highlight tapes on YouTube.
Terry is able to learn a lot of different moves to imitate by watching Donald, who is a Super Bowl Champion and three-time defensive player of the year, and Young. Something interesting he does, though, is Terry will take two different moves made by these players and combine them to make a special move of his own.
“I really try to do my own thing because it’s all about doing what’s best for you and your own way of playing,” Terry said. “Everybody plays the game differently, so it’s just how you’re going to execute it. My favorite move is a jab inside, then swat the hands to the outside and half fake spin but then spin. It really works — it’s my favorite one.”
Another thing that separates Terry is the attitude he brings to practice since he has aspirations of being an NFL player one day himself. This mindset is simply, “Practice how you play.”
“I really take that into consideration — I’m after it all the time going at it with my teammates,” Tony said. “Even though we’ll get chippy and mad, and they’ll be like, ‘Why are you going so hard?’ My response is always, ‘I’m getting better. There’s nothing else to it.’”
Ever since Terry has been a defensive end, which he first began his freshman season, he’s had the pleasure of going against not one but two D-I offensive lineman.
First was current Missouri redshirt freshman and Jackson 2021 graduate Connor Tollison, who is currently battling for the Tigers starting center position. When Terry wasn’t facing Tollison, he was taking on Murray State incoming freshman and Jackson 2022 graduate Ashton Flinn.
Both Tollison and Flinn were multiple-time all-state recipients while also having locked down the last four SEMO Conference Lineman of the Year awards (Connor three, Ashton one).
“I got a lot better going against Connor and Ashton every single day. They really pushed me to be better, so they definitely have a lot to do with me growing as a player. Connor bullied me my freshman year,” he laughed.
“I was getting thrown and tossed around, and it was the same way with Ashton. Then eventually I started learning, ‘I can do this, and I can’t do this, or sometimes I can do this.’ It’s a feel for it, and you have to really love and understand it to dive in that deep and study the game.”
One of the main reasons why Terry said he has such great pursuit of the ball and has become the playmaker he is today is because of Jackson having one of the best offenses in the state. Tony has practiced against two former all-state quarterbacks in Cael Welker (three time) and Cameron Marchi (one time).
Terry is also going against the playcalling of a future Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in the Indians offensive-minded head coach Brent Eckley. Jackson’s offense has averaged more than 40 points per game the last five seasons.
“Going against them every single day to get a look and to get better in practice? You couldn’t ask for anything better as a defensive guy like myself,” Terry explained. “They’ve proven time after time their one of the best offenses in the state, so I’m really lucky and grateful that I get to face them so much. I’m always looking to make the next play and anytime I can I try to.”
Tony first started playing football back in the second grade in JAYF, and he has always been fond of the sport since it’s somewhat of a family tradition to play. Terry can even remember asking his father at a very young age if he could play, but he had to wait till he was a little older.
Prior to reaching high school, Terry was primarily an offensive player before settling in at defensive end. Tony has lined up at wide receiver and tight end, while also being his team’s running back in junior high and a little bit as a freshman as well.
“When I switched over to defense, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m staying here. I like to hit people,’” Terry laughed. “I don’t know if it’s my own stubbornness, but coaches now at this point give me a play sheet, and they tell me what to do. If I don’t do it to a tee, it’s OK as long as I make the play. … I can just run around, have fun, hit as many people as I want and make the tackle in the backfield.”
Tony said the most challenging part of playing on the defensive line is a player’s mindset. Terry used going against someone like Tollison, who stands at 6-4, 287 pounds, as an example.
“Physically I could beat him with my speed and agility to get around him,” Tony said. “I couldn’t go right through him, but I can figure out ways to be creative with moves. It’s just the mindset of, ‘I have this big truck in front of me. How am I going to beat him?’”
While being the best player possible is always on Terry’s mind, he’s also playing for his son now, too. This draws a determination that Tony has never experienced, and he couldn’t be happier that Trey is on this journey of a football career with him.
“He’s my everything — I look up to him in the sense of, ‘This is what I need to do. This is why I need to do it,’” Tony said. “Sometimes you don’t want to get out of bed, but I’ll look over, see him and tell myself, ‘I’ve got to do it.’ It’s a great feeling knowing that I have a supporter who doesn’t even know it yet.
“Responsibility wise, I’ve gotten my stuff together. You’ve gotta grow up quick because you can’t miss a day at work or a day of practice. I’ve really stepped up in all aspects of life because what has to be done has to be done and gets done to the best of my ability.”