EVERETT — Terry Metcalf enjoyed moments of great triumph in his football career, but also moments of hardship and pain.
As it turned out, the years after football would bring additional hardship and pain.
But in the most recent chapter of a remarkable life story, the 63-year-old Metcalf has found purpose and peace in a surprising place. A man who once electrified stadiums of cheering fans now plays to a much smaller and certainly younger audience, teaching kindergarten at Greater Trinity Academy in south Everett.
Completing the transformation, the man who years ago had little interest in school is today Dr. Terry Metcalf, having earned a doctoral degree in theology.
Metcalf occasionally meets people who remember him as a football player, both at Everett Community College and later in the NFL, “and they’ll ask, ‘What are you doing now?’ I tell them I’m a kindergarten teacher and they say, ‘Really?!’” he said with a chuckle.
But for Metcalf, teaching “is a calling, and one that allows you to leave a legacy that you’ve helped somebody. Somebody helped me (as a boy), and now I need to help somebody else.”
Metcalf graduated from Seattle’s Franklin High School in 1969 and enrolled at Everett CC, where in football and track and field he became one of the most extraordinary athletes in school history. He went on to Long Beach State University and then into the NFL, where he played five seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
Though Metcalf got plenty of carries at running back, he was an explosive kick returner. In 1974 he became the first player in NFL history to average better than 30 yards on kickoff returns and 10 yards on punt returns in the same season.
He left St. Louis in 1978 for three years with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts before returning to the NFL and a final season with the Washington Redskins in 1981. A spinal injury limited his play, and although he went to training camp the following year, he soon had to retire.
Adding to his disappointment, the Redskins reached the Super Bowl that season and the next, and they won the championship in the 1982 season. Had he stayed healthy, “I’d have at least two Super Bowl rings,” Metcalf said.
Instead, there was more anguish to come. After leaving football, Metcalf’s life started on a downward path of drugs, divorce and, ultimately, despair.
“I was lost,” he said. “(Football) was my whole life. I placed all my eggs in that one basket, but after I got hurt, that basket was gone. … When I left the game, there was no more Terry Metcalf the football player. It was Terrence Metcalf, and now who are you? I didn’t know because I’d wrapped my life up in that pigskin.
“I didn’t have a direction. I had a job with a D.C. drug prevention program (in the early 1980s), and I was telling them no, but I was still doing (drugs, mostly cocaine). And eventually the walls came down.”
By the late 1980s Metcalf was back in the Seattle area, working various jobs, and on Dec. 29, 1990, he entered a drug treatment facility in Edmonds. “I went to go there for seven days and I ended up staying for two years,” he said. “I actually lived there and then I worked there. The other clients would say, ‘When are you leaving?’ And I said, ‘When the Lord tells me to leave.’”
In addition to drugs, Metcalf also wanted to kick a smoking habit.
“I’d tried to quit (both) so many times, but I couldn’t,” he said. “But the day I got there I said, ‘Lord, if you take (the cravings for cocaine and tobacco) out of my mind, I’ll know you’re real.’ And I haven’t picked up anything since.”
After completing rehab, Metcalf got serious about his own education and then about teaching others. He also did some coaching, but felt a greater desire for the classroom. In particular, he wanted to work with at-risk preschoolers, as he now does each day at Greater Trinity Academy. Many of his students come from broken homes or have other difficulties and disadvantages.
“A lot of times they just don’t have anyone to tell them they’re loved,” Metcalf said. “And a lot of times they don’t have anyone who will discipline them, but not beat them. … I’ve had parents come up to me and say, ‘Man, you got (my child) going.’ I just say, ‘I put into them what was put into me.’”
And although his salary is modest, “you can’t place a dollar value on a kid that sees himself succeeding.”
Metcalf’s work in the classroom “is giving these children hope,” said Dr. Paul A. Stoot Sr., executive director at the school that serves ages 2-12. “He’s proving to the children what they’re able to prove to themselves, and that is that they can learn anything. … When a child comes to Terry’s classroom, it’s like that child becomes alive and vibrant and full of the excitement of learning.”
Much as Metcalf once used a God-given talent to play football, he is today using “a God-given talent to give these children the power that he has, and that is knowledge,” Stoot said. “Education becomes power for these children in their later years because they’re not trapped by the bondage of poverty or criminal behavior. He’s giving them the freedom that there’s an option out there for them.”
And for Metcalf himself, meaningful moments in the classroom become “his Super Bowl because he turned that child’s life around,” Stoot said.
As he looks back, Metcalf admits to “a lot of would haves, could haves and should haves in my life. But if I’d (stayed healthy and) won those Super Bowls, I don’t know if I’d be where I am right now. I don’t think I would be because I think I would’ve been too selfish. I think I had to go down to come back up.”
Today, he said, “I’m at peace with who I am and where I am in my life. Do I have all the money in the world? No, but I’m OK. God has blessed me, so I can’t complain. And it could’ve ended up a lot worse. I could be dead. But God spared me for a different reason and it was this reason. He’s still got a lot of work for me to do.”