EAST LANSING, Mich. – Damion Terry might make his first start for Michigan State on Saturday. That’s certainly not definitive but it is as good of a chance as Terry has had since coming to the Spartans in 2013 as a ballyhooed 4-star quarterback recruit from Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep.
Head coach Mark Dantonio’s decision of whether it will be Terry, Tyler O’Connor or Brian Lewerke – or some combination of the three – likely won’t be known to the public at large until the 3:30 p.m. (ET) kickoff against Northwestern.
This opportunity has been a long time coming for Terry. He had a shot to win the starting job during spring practice and preseason camp but O’Connor was more consistent and earned the nod. The offensive struggles of the past three games have mirrored that of the entire team, however, so the coaching staff turned to Terry in the fourth quarter last Saturday against BYU looking for something to spark life into the Spartans.
Terry did lead a 75-yard scoring drive, a drive he capped off with a 1-yard touchdown, but that came after he had thrown an interception that led to a BYU touchdown drive.
It was a spark with an asterisk. It still may have been enough to convince Dantonio, offensive coordinator Dave Warner and quarterbacks coach Brad Salem that it is time to see what Terry can do with the team under his control from the get-go.
None of the quarterbacks have been made available to the media since post-BYU game press conferences. As Terry sat, listened to questions and answered them, his personality came through — confident but not a braggart.
“I’ll give myself a C. I’m very critical of myself,” said Terry when asked to grade his performance. “I definitely think that when I went in there and we did the 2-minute offense it put the defense on its heels … It’s stuff like that. It’s real fun going out there, quick to the line and defenses don’t know what’s going on. I’d like to think I gave us a little spark but we still need to get the W.”
Terry owns nearly every possible passing record at Erie Cathedral Prep, a tradition-rich program in northwest Pennsylvania. Many of those records are by a wide margin. He’s got the physical makeup (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) and he grew up playing the position, leading Cathedral Prep to a state championship as a senior along with Michigan State teammate Delton Williams.
Cathedral Prep played that title game without two of its best wide receivers. Terry still threw for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns, including one to a sophomore who was playing only because of those injuries. That showed one of Terry’s strengths, said Cathedral Prep head coach Michael Mischler.
“Damion did a really good job of reading defenders, being patient and knowing the concepts that we’re running,” Mischler said. “I don’t think that kid played the entire season and we threw him in there in the state championship game because he was the body we had there. The kid earned to be in that spot on the depth chart but you would think (Terry) would look away from him, but he was the open guy and he hit him for the touchdown.”
Terry started three seasons in high school. Mischler said that, to his knowledge, a sophomore had never previously started at quarterback in the school’s history before Terry.
“I just think the biggest thing that stands out about him for me is his character and his approach to life is real solid,” Mischler told Landof10.com. “His mom has raised him real well. She’s a great woman. She’s real supportive of him but not intrusive at all. She’s taken care of him and brought him up the right way.”
Maybe that’s where the patience comes from. Fans were calling for Terry to play as a freshman in 2013 as a competition among Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and O’Connor was being contested. They called out “We want Terry” at Spartan Stadium as the offense struggled in the 2013 season opener against Western Michigan. It was an uncomfortable position for Terry but it was a situation that has been part of his learning process.
“He’s never been boastful about what he’s done,” Mischler said. “He has a great arm, great size, he’s really mobile. He should be very confident in his abilities. He’s a very good athlete. A very good quarterback.”
Senior tight end Josiah Price said whoever is the quarterback will have a strong competitive side to them. It might not be easy to tell with the quiet Terry, but it is there.
“Damion is a competitor,” Price said. “He gets after it and he’s going to go out there and give it his all. I think you saw that on the goal line this last game. I think he just lowered his head and tried to truck a D-lineman and linebacker at the same time. He’s going to attack everything head-first.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo