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Where Are They Now? Former Rams safety turned airline pilot Pat Terrell

It never hurts when a team can pick up a safety who's willing to get his nose dirty tackling, bag a fair share of interceptions, and help win a National Championship.

The Rams did just that during the second round of the 1990 NFL Draft when they chose Pat Terrell, who after contributing to Notre Dame's perfect 12-0 record and the title as a junior, recorded 44 tackles and five picks during his senior season.


"I was extremely excited," Terrell said. "Frank Stams is a good friend of mine from Notre Dame, and he was drafted just the year previous, so it was cool to go to a team where there was some familiarity.

"And come on, (after being raised in St. Petersburg, FL) I was in South Bend for four years. So to get drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, I mean, twist my arms. It was one of the teams that I kind of had on the radar and just had a lot of respect for the franchise. I was 100 percent thrilled."

Stams wasn't the only familiar face the delighted and now parka-less Terrell saw after making the trip to Southern California.

"John Robinson was the head coach and Fritz Shurmer was the defensive coordinator, and I had several interviews with the Rams during the Combine. So I knew there was a level of interest," Terrell said. "And John Robinson was the (former) USC coach, and so I think we kind of kept that rivalry going.

"He said I reminded him of Ronnie Lott a little bit and that he watched me a lot in the scouting films, especially in the rivalries against USC and Notre Dame. So it was exciting because I really felt like those guys knew who I was and knew the type of player I was. And knew the type of person that I was, as well."

As a rookie, Terrell and the Rams struggled to a 5-11 record after going 11-5 the year before. And he was facing a division that included the defending Super Bowl XXIV Champion San Francisco 49ers.

Coincidentally, his first NFL start and interception came in the same game, the Week 12 upset victory in San Francisco.

"Joe Montana was kind of like the Magic Johnson of football at the time. He was at the top of his game," Terrell said. "And you know, Patrick Mahomes was not the first one to invent that kind of look to the left and throw to the right. Montana had been doing that for years. And the honest truth, Joe tried to look me off and he was effective, but I broke the wrong way of where he was trying to look me off. And so when he came back, I happened to be there and get the interception. I was obviously extremely excited.

"And I'll never forget after the game, Joe came up to me, and I was really impressed he knew my name. He said, 'Hey, Pat. Let me ask you a question. What did you see on that pick?' And I just kind of giggled and said, 'Aww, Joe, I've been studying you for years.' And he goes, 'Because you're a Notre Dame alum, I'll give you that one. But don't ever expect to pick me off again.' And we both kind of laughed."


Moving into the starting lineup at the start of his second season, Terrell felt prepared. Not only because of the experience he had gained from his first year in L.A., but also because of what he had been able to go through playing in several big games while at Notre Dame.

"The speed was obviously fast, but the biggest difference was probably the play of the of the quarterbacks. What I thought was covered in college was wide open in the NFL. I didn't feel like I was really lost, I was always a very confident player and a physical player. And so I thought the timing was good for me," Terrell said.

"I had a lot of playing time my rookie year and I thought it was a natural progression to be a starter my second year there. Michael Stewart, he was a fun mentor to have. He was a student of the game and really had a way of keeping it simple, and I admired that. To be back there playing with Michael Stewart and Anthony Newman, who was a tremendous athlete, I think we really had a strong secondary."

At the time, however, the team's success wasn't as strong as its secondary. During Terrell's first three seasons, the Rams won only 14 of 48 games under two head coaches, Robinson and Chuck Knox, and three defensive coordinators, Shurmur, Jeff Fisher, and George Dyer.

"It's always a challenge when you have a new system coming in, so I was excited to be able to prove myself. But wasn't ideal," Terrell said. "Starting over is always difficult. And when I say difficult, at some point you want to just know the defense like the back of your hand. When you have a change, you're figuring it out. But I think I was successful in learning every defense that we had."

Granted, not every season ends battling for the Lombardi Trophy. And while things weren't ideal, there were times that excited the players and fans alike. One was in 1992, the Week 11 game in Dallas when Los Angeles upset the Cowboys, 27-23. It is one of Terrell's fondest memories as a Ram.

"So much came together. It was a big victory," he said. "We had some challenging games and some challenging seasons, but we always knew we had good personnel. We didn't make the playoffs and so that was very tough, but beating good teams was always a thrill. And I think we had a lot of respect. Teams respected our personnel and respected our physical toughness."

Following four seasons with the Rams, Terrell went on to play for the New York Jets, Carolina, and Green Bay, before literally taking off into his second career as a pilot for American Trans Air.

An airline which has contracts to fly for the military, Terrell was the captain of a Boeing 757 and flew all over the world, including transporting troops in and out of the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I'd joke around sometimes that one of these days I'll pick a career that's not stressful like an NFL player or an airline pilot flying troops in and out of an active military zone," Terrell said. "But yeah, every once in a while, I'd be flying over Baghdad and have to kind of silently say, 'Oh, boy. Careful what you ask for.' But life is short, and I feel very blessed that I've been able to do things that I've always dreamt about doing as a kid.

"I've always been an aviation fanatic. My grandfather was involved with the Tuskegee Airmen and I think that's where the interest first lit. When you leave the game of football, and everybody goes through it, whether it's pee wee, high school, major college football, or the NFL, it's a letdown. It's hard to find something immediately that gives you the thrill and the passion that it takes to be able to perform at a high level in the NFL. And for me, at that time, the only thing I felt that could grab my interest was a professional aviation career."

After spending five years working in the sky, Terrell grounded himself. Assigned more frequent and longer flights, he knew it wasn't going to be a long career. And with family coming first, he wanted a closer-to-normal job so he could be more involved in the lives of his wife, Beth, and their children: Seth, Veronica, Luke, CeCe, Eli, Javi, and Elle.

So onto career No. 3 – Founder and CEO of Terrell Materials, a multi-state concrete supply company based in Westmont, IL. His interest in the field began when he was a kid working at his dad's petroleum supply and uncle's concrete companies.

"One of the things I recognized as an airline pilot is technology was changing," Terrell said. "GPS was really getting more precise. And because of that, we were getting trained to land on more parallel runways. So I kind of put two and two together and said, 'There's not a lot of parallel runways like LAX around the country.' And so my entrepreneurship kind of kicked in.

"I built the company from scratch and we just worked extremely hard. We specialize in high-volume concrete projects like freeways and airport runways, and have had several projects throughout the country building new runways at Chicago O'Hare to Orlando International to (Houston's) George Bush International to Atlanta Hartsfield. We own fleets of portable concrete batch plants that we set up on site and manufacture concrete. And we'll be celebrating our 20th year this year.

"The key is just to have a passion about what you're doing, and to really do something that you understand. I feel that being an airline pilot gave me a sneak look at which direction the country's infrastructure was headed. My timing was good. And we have a specific niche in that industry. If you needed a new driveway, I can't help you because we set up a factory right on site. But if you need several hundred thousand cubic yards of concrete, I'm your man."

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