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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Terance Mathis

Catch Up with the Jets Legend from New Mexico

Wide receiver/kick returner Terance Mathis, 1990-93.MathisTactionIV

It may not have been considered a monopoly, but four of the 45 wide receivers chosen during the 1990 NFL Draft and Supplemental Draft were by the Jets.

That includes Terance Mathis, an All-American from the University of New Mexico, in the sixth round. Setting all-time college records with 263 receptions, 4,254 yards, and most games with a touchdown (26), he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last year.

"I thought I'd be one of the first three receivers off the board, and it didn't quite happen that way," Mathis said. "And after the first day (of the draft) went by, I said, 'I just want to play. Whoever drafts me, I'm going to go to work. I won't be a disappointment.'"

Instead of being concerned about getting lost in the crowd of receivers, Mathis concentrated on returning punts and kickoffs. Which considering how things began for him with the Jets, wasn't such a bad idea.

"My first mini-camp, I was awful. I mean, I dropped balls and stuff. Couldn't get off the ball. And I was only 155, 158 pounds. Didn't lift weights, I was a skinny kid. I was like, 'Oh, my goodness,'" Mathis said.

"And when I came back for summer workouts, (veteran cornerback) James Hasty said, 'Hey, man, you're going to stay with me for the summer.' So we went back to the hotel and got my stuff, and I worked out with him.

"I think he'd seen the potential. We went up against each other quite a bit in mini-camp and I think he figured, 'I'm going to teach you how to beat bump-and-run. I'll teach you the NFL game.' And that's what he did. I came back for training camp and was five pounds heavier and stronger. And I was better."

The beefed-up Mathis had a solid rookie season, leading the Jets with 43 kick returns for an 18.3-yard average. And used as a punt returner for six mid-season games when JoJo Townsell was sidelined with a toe injury, he had 11 returns for a 15-yard average.

Including one in New York's Week 9 victory over Dallas, which he ran back 98 yards for a touchdown.

"This is the truth. I called that return. I didn't know it was going to be 98, but I told the special teams coach, Coach (Foge) Fazio, 'I'm going to return a punt today.' And he says, 'Okay, okay, okay.' It took the third attempt, but I did it. And he said, 'Hey, you know you're not supposed to catch the ball on the 2-yard line,'" Mathis laughed.

Not missing a game during his four years with the Jets, Mathis caught 93 passes for 1,242 yards, a 13.4-yard average, and four touchdowns. And was the team's leading kick-returner for three seasons with an 18.5-yard average.

"Growing up watching professional football, I think of those Monday night or Sunday night games. I was just a big fan of NFL football," Mathis said. "And then to be playing next to Al Toon and Ken O'Brien and Freeman McNeil and guys like that, it was incredible.

"But I think probably the fondest memory is (in 1991), having to win that last game against the Dolphins in Miami to get into the playoffs, and we go into overtime. It was hot that day, and we found a way to win that game (23-20). With a kicker (Raul Allegre) that we just signed!"

Most proud of his longevity – 13 seasons with New York, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh – did Mathis, who caught 689 passes for 8,809 yards and 63 touchdowns during his career, notice something that set Jet fans apart from those others?

"I'm not talking bad about Falcon fans, but in Atlanta, it's such a melting pot of people from all over the country, so you have your diehard Falcon fans, and then you have Falcon fans who are Falcon fans when we're not playing against their hometown team," he said.

"In New York, there's nothing like that. It's the Green Machine, and that's it. There're no fair-weather fans in New York. Win or lose, they're there. They talk about you and curse you out, but they still love their football team."

Mathis' last two head coaches, Dan Reeves in Atlanta and Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, saw something in the veteran that he may not have seen in himself.

At the exit meeting head coaches have with players at the end of the season, Reeves in 2002 and Cowher the following year, asked what he would do if he was to retire from the game, each hoping that he'd join their staff.

"I didn't think I was ready to be a coach, but I guess that I was at the time," Mathis said. "You look back in hindsight and you kind of kick yourself. Maybe you should have done that and you might be a head coach in the NFL by now. But you just look at those things and at the end of the day, you pretty much say, 'Well, you live and you learn, right?'"

Retiring in 2003, Mathis became a personal trainer. And in 2011, he joined Steve Davenport's staff at Savannah State as the offensive coordinator/receivers coach, and 'caught the bug.'

Mathis, who went on to coach at various high schools in Georgia, never backed down from a challenge as a coach or a player. And he's proving that's still the case now as the new head coach at Morehouse College, a HBCU in Atlanta, that has endured back-to-back 1-9 seasons.

"That was before. This is a new day," said Mathis, who accepted the position in February. "We don't talk about the last two or three years. We talk about the present. What's now. We talk about the attitude, the energy that they bring every day. And we talk about the camaraderie that they've formed. We talk about accountability. All those things.

"You try to go after young men and find those diamonds in the rough. 'Okay, who else is offering them (scholarships)? And it's funny because once they accept your offer, then everybody else starts offering them. So now you're competing when you weren't competing when you first offered. So I think that's one of the biggest challenge.

"And there's no, 'That was dumb. That was stupid.' We correct. We teach. And just from other people, they're excited about what we're doing. They see a change. For me, I don't know the change because I wasn't here. All I know is how I would want to be coached and how I have been coached. So I think that's how we turn this thing around."

Making their home in suburban Atlanta, Mathis and his wife, Arnedia, have two adult children: Terae and Terance Jr. "I'm at peace with where I am right now," he said. "I think that the best part of being me is that I'm happy. I'm blessed. And I want to be a blessing to others."