Most Michigan State football fans know the story of Damion Terry. The redshirt freshman quarterback came to East Lansing from Erie, Pennsylvania, bringing a track record of success and extraordinary potential with him. On the field he makes plays like superman and off if it he is humble, kind and unimpressed with his own talent.
Few know about the person who made Terry’s rise to the top possible: his mother, Shelby Staaf.
Staaf recently told her story to Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio.
Being a teenager isn’t easy. Growing up is much more difficult when you become a parent, as Staaf discovered when she gave birth to Damion Terry in June 1995.
“I had him very young, and he grew up with me. At 16, I had him. He was my world since day one,” Staaf said.
While her friends were having fun and going out on the weekends, Staaf was changing diapers and giving baths. She didn’t get bitter with her, “Poor choices,” but instead embraced mistakes and made the most of them.
Such an experience makes many young parents angry and bitter. Rearing a child requires a great deal of maturity, which few have at a young age. Staaf wasn’t like her peers.
“I didn’t have prom, I didn’t have homecoming, I was making bottles. And taking Damion off to kindergarten. But I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Staaf said. “My whole life has been focused around my children. Their needs, their wants come before my needs.”
As a single mom, Staaf worked at least one, and sometimes two, jobs to provide for Damion and his younger sister. Even then, she still found time for her kids.
“I remember taking Damion to [football] practice, picking him up, dropping him off,” she said. “He didn’t want to go sometimes, but you have to keep him on that routine.”
Staaf’s efforts began to pay dividends very early.
“He started playing football when he was five, and I can tell you that his first coaches were all corrections officers. They worked him pretty tough, and at the end of that year, Damion got the MVP award, and he was called ‘The Natural.’ We took that with a grain of salt,” she said.
Terry continued to work hard on his game as he grew older. Football has always been his passion. With a strong role model at home, Terry’s talents began to emerge as he entered junior high.
“Around seventh and eighth grade, he really started to produce and be noticed all over,” Staaf recalled.
Staaf soon enrolled Damion at Cathedral Preparatory School, a prestigious private institution in Erie. The decision was a no-brainer. Just as Damion attended Catholic grade school, he would attend Catholic high school.
“I worked one, sometimes two jobs to put him in a private school so he could get that education. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Staaf said. “I don’t know if he would be where he is today without Sacred Heart School, Blessed Sacrament School, or Cathedral Prep School. I don’t know if things would have worked out this way. I worked my butt off and did what I had to do, he did what he had to do and it’s all worked out so far.”
In his sophomore season, Terry got a chance to shine. The Cathedral Prep coaching staff awarded Terry the starting quarterback job over a veteran senior. The dual-threat signal caller took full advantage of his opportunity, leading his team deep into the playoffs.
Big-time college programs soon came knocking. MSU, Boston College, Illinois, and Florida all showed significant interest. As Terry pondered his options, he continued to perform well on the field. The recruiting process intensified following Terry’s big junior campaign. In April 2012, he made up his mind. Terry wanted to be a Spartan.
Staaf couldn’t have been happier with her son’s decision.
“It was a perfect fit right when we met [the MSU coaching staff] the first time,” she said. “I thank God regularly that he picked Coach Dantonio and Michigan State. I want my son around men like him. We are truly blessed he is there.”
The Spartan Nation welcomed Terry with open arms, and cheered from afar when Terry led Cathedral Prep to a Class AAA Pennsylvania State Championship in his senior season.
As Terry piled up accolades and accrued fans, strong support from Staaf helped him to stay grounded.
To this day, Staaf is proud of her son’s remarkable maturity.
“There’s a quote I’ve always told him since he was younger: ‘Champions don’t talk, they perform.’ He follows that,” she said. “He amazes me how humble he is and stays.”
Terry’s humility paid off big-time last season. While Spartan Stadium called out his name early in the season, Terry didn’t demand playing time. He quietly waited his turn and defused the situation by showing patience. In fact it was Terry who didn’t hesitate to complement those ahead of him on the depth chart.
“Football is his life, it’s been his life,” Staaf said. “And when he gets on that field, he’s definitely going to give 110%. But he understands the process. He’s very knowledgeable about the game of football and everything that comes with it. He doesn’t want to get out there and not be 100% and not be ready. He wants to learn it, and then once he has it, he’s going to be on fire.”
Staaf was glad that Dantonio stuck to his decision to redshirt Terry instead of rushing the youngster into action as the crowd demanded.
“We were watching the Youngstown State game when there was speculation that they might give him a shot. Honestly, I was worried,” Staaf said. “He knew a lot of the plays, but not all of them. Just to have him pull his redshirt for a couple of games or a couple of plays, I definitely didn’t think it was worth it either. I’m thankful for Coach Dantonio that he made the right decision and [Damion] has one more year of eligibility. He has grown so much from last summer to this summer. His knowledge, the playbook, his weight, exercising, his arm, everything is so much better. I’m so excited, I’m glad he has that extra year of eligibility.
“We know it’s going to take a little time, but once he’s ready, he’ll go far.”
Terry’s eventual goals on the field include leading MSU to a national championship and reaching the NFL. But as he noted in a previous interview with Spartan Nation Radio, Terry has another, more important goal, too: obtaining a college degree and handing it to the love of his life: his mother.
“It means everything to me, especially coming from an athlete and a childlike Damion,” Staaf said of Terry’s goal. “I don’t really have words right now, it just means everything to me. He’ll get that degree, and that’s more important because that degree will take him farther than football ever will. We’re going to have fun playing football too, but I’m looking forward to seeing that degree.”
Many parents would do anything for a son like Damion Terry. So how did Staaf raise such a well-rounded young man?
“Honestly, I had a really good role model in my mom. I think it trickled down,” Staaf said. “It has a lot to do with my faith, a lot to do with wanting him to have a better life. I made some bad choices around my teenage years. I kept a lot of open communication with him. He was always my friend, but he was always my son first. He knows he can talk to me about anything, but at the same time, he knows I’m checking his grades every night. If he has a low grade, he’s grounded for the weekend. Like I said, he grew up with me. It really has a lot to do with my mom, because my mom was the same way with me.”
Terry now has a promising future ahead of him, thanks in part to Staaf’s incredible job as a single mom. Other single moms might be wise to listen to Staaf’s advice.
“Keep him focused, keep him in the church,” Staaf said. “No matter how good he gets or whatever he does, make sure he takes time and sits down with you and you guys talk. Sit at the table, make him sit down, I don’t care if he just had three or four touchdowns in the state championship game. You need to stay on his level and stay with him. Be his friend, but more importantly be a parent and be a good role model.”
The Spartan Nation knows the talented Spartan signal caller. Damion Terry’s athletic prowess is known far and wide. Many know that as talented as he is, he is a better young man, a person and a great one at that. What many don’t know is what made him.
The pride of Erie isn’t an egomaniac. Terry was quick to defuse and public calling for him to start because with him it is about, “Team first.” Ask Terry to talk about himself and his face turns to the ground. He is humble.
What made him? He said to Spartan Nation last year, “I love my mom. I owe her everything.” In sports the athletic achievements bring praise from the fans as it should. When a great athlete is also a great person like Terry it makes that success all the better.
The sad part is that many don’t see the true champion, the true hero in Damion Terry’s family. She won’t throw a pass or scramble for a first down. Shelby Staaf won’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated or be the lead story on Sportscenter. But when the games are over and Terry leaves the field she still is the woman that made him. She still holds her baby boys heart in her hand.
A role model for men and woman alike, Shelby Staaf took some bad choices, exercised personal responsibility, and raised an amazing young man. Terry is a star, but Staaf is a super star. In a day and age of people running from responsibility, she embraced it and proved heroes aren’t always throwing the ball or making touchdowns, but they are making the most of every situation in life.
So whenever you see Terry on the field, think about Shelby. Think about the amazing work ethic, integrity and character of a young woman and the dedication she has. She has a testimony, because she survived the test! Damion is the star, but Staaf is the super star!