KENTFIELD, Calif. —
The road to Carson and a spot in the CIF Division III Bowl championship has been a long and challenging one for Marin Catholic (Kentfield)
High School's football team.
The team went on the road to Richmond and Oroville to win bitterly-fought section and regional games.
None of the Wildcats from Kentfield, however, have traveled quite the path of Akili Terry
The chiseled 6-foot, 207-pound star running back grew up the Acorn Projects of West Oakland — walked around drug dealers, witnessed horrific acts of violence and ran from stray pit bulls — until he and his mother found an affordable rental in Marin County on Craigslist just before his freshman year.
The result has been fruitful for both the 14-1 Wildcats, who received a strong, fast and reliable inside runner and leader, and Terry, who gained stability and hope and appears on the verge of earning his first of many life goals, a college scholarship.
Marin Catholic coach Mazi Moayed said Terry, who didn't play organized football until the ninth grade, has steadily improved each season and is becoming a "hot commodity" among college recruiters.
Colorado, San Diego State and Eastern Washington have been in contact lately and with a good showing Saturday, Moayed predicts more Pac-10 coaches will be filling his answering machine.
Terry has rushed for a team high 1,726 yards and 26 touchdowns and is a terrific pass protector for Cal-bound quarterback Jared Goff
"(Terry) is a physical specimen who has just grinded away his entire career to get to this point," Moayed said. "He just continues to get better and better. He's so talented and so coachable, he's just scratching the surface of how good he can be."
Said Terry: "It's all coming together. It's one day at a time. Every day is a blessing." In better place
Terry shows no harsh or bitter signs he lived a rough childhood. Quite the contrary, he'll tell you.
His mother Azia Corbett instilled in him a strong religious faith and how to avoid trouble without living in fear. She taught him inner strength, he said. Common sense.
"When you're out on the street and it's getting dark and you hear guns popping, you know it's time to go inside," Terry said with a laugh.
Terry laughs easily and sees his childhood experiences as blessings. Like running more than once from a pack of pit bulls. "There were a lot of strays in my neighborhood," he said. "There would be two, then three and four and five. Maybe it made me a little faster."
Terry was never tempted to run with the wrong crowd, he said, but his mother feared he might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time — a statistic of violence.
He said he's seen shootings and death on the street. He's heard stories of sons shooting fathers.
"In my religion, if you die before you are 40 years old you go straight to heaven," Terry said. "I know a lot of my brothers are now in a better place."
His mom didn't want him there prematurely and instead found a haven in Marin County.
He spent one year at Drake-San Anselmo before transferring to Marin Catholic, where he was immediately moved to varsity. There's a lot to learn in the Wildcats' system and none of it came easy.
"He just showed so much character and desire," Moayed said. "He had God-given ability yes, but he developed all aspects each day."
One area that came quite natural were his social skills. Terry is the only fully African-American on the team at a school associated with affluence and high brow. He said he was always welcomed with open arms and this season was voted by his teammates as a captain. He's grateful everyday to be in a better place.
"I never had any troubles adapting," he said. "Marin has this rich and preppy reputation but I just found kids to be ordinary middle-class kids. They seem to be humble with what they have. At least with me.
"I'm so blessed to be where I am."
Marin Catholic senior linebacker Alex Poksay, described by Moayed as the "heart of the team," said Terry was always easy to like and earned respect by his hard work alone.
"He's just top notch in every aspect," Poksay said. "I'm sure it couldn't be easy to come to a new place likes this from the place where he was at. He's grown so much as a person and a football player."
But Terry hasn't nearly forgot where he came from. In fact, he spends much of his time visiting his grandmother and father in Oakland. His father, a former high school football star in San Francisco, has always tried to instill a strong work ethic.
Terry lives by these words his dad wrote out for him: While you passively procrastinate someone out there with more determination, focus and drive is bettering themselves. ... And if you would ever meet that person in a competitive environment they will crush you. ... So hit it and hit it hard.
He doesn't just hit on the football field. He hits the books hard too and is right around a 3.0 grade point average, a giant improvement from where he was before high school.
Terry is also part of College Bound Brotherhood, a college readiness program for African-American males based in Oakland. He encourages the youth in Oakland to follow the path of advanced education, the one he hopes to soon take.
He plans to gain a college degree in International business. He passes that word on to kids on the streets of Oakland today. He said that will never stop.
"I want to give back and I will give back," Terry said. "I love the people I grew up around and all of it was a great experience. I will never just leave and leave it alone."
On Saturday, he hopes to give the Wildcats at least 100 yards rushing and a couple touchdowns in his final high school game. Marin Catholic plays a talented Madison (San Diego)
squad that is 13-1 and plenty battle-tested. A victory would be a perfect prep ending spot after a long, winding and rocky road to get there.
"Madison looks like a really good team, very fast and well coached," Terry said. "But we have a great coaching staff and players too. Nobody has outworked us, I can say that for sure. We're ready. I'm ready."