Terrale Johnson is grateful for the rare opportunity he has at Kansas State.
The Manhattan native and junior-college transfer was the last recruit to ink his scholarship with the Wildcats on signing day last February, because the offer wasn’t extended until that day.
Coaches liked what they saw on film from Johnson, who went just down the road to Hutchinson Community College as a two-year starter for the Blue Dragons, but also saw a bit of a project. Johnson was overweight and still needed development to compete day in and day out in the Big 12 Conference. But they took a chance anyway, turning his walk-on offer into a scholarship offer, and Johnson couldn’t have been more thrilled.
He also had an offer from Tennessee State, and following his campus visit, was invited by co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel to visit K-State.
“After that I was just waiting for the phone call, because they had a lot of offensive linemen they were looking at,” Johnson said. “On signing day, he told me to check my email, and I had a bunch of paperwork to fill out. I think I was the last one to sign, too, but it felt good. It’s such a blessing.”
Johnson considered walking away from the game following the unexpected death of his father, Brian, in 2013, but instead chose to keep playing in his honor.
“I really lost it — I probably gained 15 pounds that summer sitting around doing nothing,” Johnson said. “But I prayed about it, my mom she told me to stick with it because that’s what he would want.”
That journey has since led to a scholarship offer from K-State, where Johnson can play in front of his family, including his mother, who is thrilled to see him return home.
“It’s a blessing because I know he’s still watching,” Johnson said of his dad. “My aunt had passed, too, the next year, so that’s the main thing I think about. I’m doing it for them. They would always come to my games — that’s what I play for.”
Johnson is rooming with longtime friend and former Manhattan High teammate Deante Burton, who introduced him to several K-State players in the past two years when the pair would hang out in Manhattan.
The two have been friends since they were children, long enough to see their roles as football players reverse.
“I used to be short and chunky, and Terrale was the Slim Jim, so we think it was like Space Jam,” Burton said. “Our powers switched and we were never the same.”
Now it’s Johnson doing the blocking and Burton running routes for K-State, which has been an adjustment for Johnson in his limited time with the program, especially when it comes to conditioning.
“Yes we run at Hutch, but here you have to be conditioned,” Johnson said, smiling. “You have to have a lot of mental toughness and a lot of physical toughness. You can do it, but it’s more about how bad do you want to do it? That’s the biggest difference for me. I ran down there, but not like we do here.”
Burton said he does what he can to help his roommate adjust to life in the Big 12.
“I can’t say that I do the extra running to help him, but I push for him and help motivate him,” Burton said. “He’s a guy who since we were kids, running was never his thing. I know he prides himself on being more of a gamer. But when it comes to college football, it’s all about being in shape, being ready to go and being ready to work.
“When he got here, he struggled a little bit, but I think he’s made strides. And we’ve got a great strength and conditioning staff led by Coach Dawson, so if he continues on this path, he can really excel and help our team.”
Offensive line coach Charlie Dickey said he thinks Johnson is coming along nicely, though he wouldn’t say how or if Johnson would factor into the 2014 rotation of offensive linemen.
“Time will tell on that,” Dickey said. “We’ll have to wait and see. He’s getting in better shape right now, but we’ll see. He’s competing.
“I think the biggest thing with Terrale was that he’s a versatile guy. He was playing guard and tackle for Hutch. But he did some good things fundamentally on tape that we liked. We thought he could help us at the guard spot.”
Johnson said he thinks his time in Hutchinson helped him get to this point in his career.
“It was a long two years, but I feel like it developed me and I matured more,” he said. “I started my freshman year, but I didn’t know all the rules to the game. So that second year, that’s when I played different positions. It was a lot of work with new coaches and stuff like that. But some of the big-time guys playing at Hutch helped me along.”
Now Johnson has the opportunity to do what so many of his former teammates won’t get the chance to do — play at college football’s highest level in his hometown.
“That’s everybody’s dream at JUCO,” he said. “They talk about going home, so to be able to be here and play in front of my family, it’s a blessing and I’m going to take advantage of it.”