Terris Jones-Grigsby was an academically ineligible walk-on running back about to get a new head coach.
In his mind, the odds of his Division I football career continuing were low — really low.
“Honestly I was thinking about leaving Arizona because I just didn’t think it was going to work out here,” Jones-Grigsby said. “I thought I screwed up my chance.”
The younger half-brother of former Arizona running back Nic Grigsby, Jones-Grigsby wasn’t sure what would happen next. He didn’t even know if football would be involved.
But after Arizona fired Mike Stoops, the walk-on at least wanted to see who his new coach would be.
The Wildcats hired Rich Rodriguez in late-November of 2011 and brought in longtime assistant Calvin Magee to coach the running backs. Jones-Grigsby was about to get a second chance.
“My first impression was just that Terris was a good kid,” Magee said. “He seemed like a hungry kid who really wanted to do well. I just felt good about him.”
Magee met with the UA’s academic support staff and they devised a plan to get Jones-Grigsby back on track in the classroom.
The rigorous workload included a full class load in the spring and six more classes in the summer. By the time Rodriguez and the Wildcats opened the 2012 season, Jones-Grigsby was back in the fold.
He spent that season exclusively on the scout team but made a positive impression on the coaching staff. Rodriguez awarded Jones-Grigsby a scholarship before the 2013 season, and the running back became a special teams ace for the Wildcats.
He played in 12 of 13 games and had 10 tackles.
With Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins ahead of him on the depth chart, Jones-Grigsby didn’t get a single carry. But in the spring, as Magee and Rodriguez searched for Carey’s replacement, Jones-Grigsby emerged. Now the senior is a serious candidate to be the Wildcats’ starting running back when they open their season Aug. 29 against UNLV.
“He kept getting after it and concentrating on doing something with himself,” Magee said. “Then he gets on scholarship and now he’s looking really, really good to be the first back. That remains to be seen, but he’s doing a really good job.
“You just have to be proud of Terris because of how hard he’s worked.”
When he walked on at Arizona in 2010, his name was just Terris Jones.
He and ex-Wildcat Grigsby shared the same mom but had a different father.
Terris grew up in Long Beach, California, without his dad in his life, and always looked up to Nic.
“He still mimics everything I do,” Nic said this week by phone. “From how I dress to how I play. He’s always been right there since we were younger.”
The two were teammates in 2010. Nic rushed for 533 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. Terris redshirted as a true freshman.
When Nic left the UA and began his professional football career, Terris wanted to change his last name from “Jones” to Jones-Grigsby.” But ineligible and not playing, he wanted to make the name change at the right time.
“I wanted to live up to that Grigsby name,” Terris said of the last name his mom shares with Terris’ three older brothers.
He eventually added it before the 2013 season at the urging of his brothers and coaches.
“I think he always felt left out,” Nic said. “But he’s always been a Grigsby to us. Jones is a name given to him at birth. But he’s part of our family. I love that it’s on the back of his jersey now.
“It should be.”
The youngest of four boys, there’s really only one difference between Terris and his three older brothers, Ahmad, Marcellous and Nic. Those three all have “Grigsby Boyz” tattooed on their bodies. Nic’s is on the inside of his right forearm.
Terris doesn’t have the tattoo yet, but that’s his decision.
“We’re waiting for him to get that, but I think he’s afraid of needles,” Nic said laughing.
When Jones-Grigsby was getting the bulk of the work with the first-team offense this past spring, it didn’t seem likely to hold.
Junior Jared Baker was recovering from a torn ACL. Freshman Jonathan Haden, who enrolled in January, wasn’t cleared to practice by the NCAA because of a clearinghouse issue. Nick Wilson and UNLV transfer Adonis Smith had yet to arrive on campus.
But as training camp has progressed, Jones-Grigsby has still gotten the majority of the work with the first-team.
He doesn’t have a single carry in his UA career, but he could very well get the first rush of the season against the Rebels at Arizona Stadium.
“Terris is just solid in everything he does,” Magee said. “He knows the system. He can pass-protect, he can catch the ball. He’s a pretty good runner; you just haven’t had a chance to see it.”
Jones-Grigsby ran for 1,912 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior at California High School in Whittier. A former triple-jumper, he said he has enough athleticism to make some moves in the open field, but he prides himself on his toughness and strength.
He closely watched Ka’Deem Carey the past three seasons and said he has a similar style to him.
His strength is no joke. This summer, he set a new UA running backs record in the hang clean with a lift of 397 pounds.
“I want to be explosive like Ka’Deem, but also strong and durable like he was,” Jones-Grigsby said. “It was a great opportunity to learn from him and Daniel Jenkins, and I think I’m a better running back because of it.”
Whether he’s the starting running back isn’t nearly as important as what will happen in December, when Jones-Grigsby is scheduled to graduate. He wants to be an animal nutritionist and design diets for various pets. He has four dogs, a snake and a turtle back in California at his mom’s house.
“I had a chemistry teacher back in the day that got me into that stuff,” the running back said. “I’ve always been interested in it.”
Magee will be front and center for that graduation ceremony.
“I’m so happy for him,” Magee said. “He’s happy about it. That’s just a great accomplishment for him.”