ATLANTA — Terry LeCount woke up at 3 a.m. on Tuesday like he does every morning, preparing for another day of work that would start with an early morning run through the streets of Atlanta.
He was getting ready to jump on the MARTA transportation system when he saw her.
“She had urinated on her clothes, had no shoes,” he said. “It got me teary-eyed. I thought, ‘Damn. That was me.’”
The former Florida quarterback and NFL receiver knows how low you can get. That’s why his reclamation story is a heart-warming part of these SEC Media Days.
LeCount now works at the College Football Hall of Fame where all 14 SEC teams are setting up shop on different days to talk about football this week. He is a floor supervisor, an ambassador of sorts for the building that is only 5 years old.
Fit and sober now for 27 years, he can tell you about a journey that took him to the depths of despair because it has a happy ending.
Today he is scurrying around making sure all of the employees at the Hall of Fame understand how important this week is.
“I’m tired every day because I’m giving a lot of effort,” he said. “I want people to say, ‘Man, this is some hospitality.’ I tell everybody (who works there), ‘You know who you’re going to meet today? You might meet your (future) boss.’ ”
LeCount was an All-American out of Raines High in Jacksonville when he signed with Florida. As a sophomore in 1975, he shuttled plays back and forth into the game with fellow wide receiver Wes Chandler. As a junior, he was moved to safety and even had an interception late in the first half of the Georgia game.
As a senior, Florida moved him back to quarterback where he directed the “woosh-bone” offense, billed as such because it was the fastest backfield in the nation.
Florida went 6-4-1 despite having 10 players selected into the NFL off that team in the 1978 draft.
”We were ranked ninth early in the year, but the top kind of fell off,” he said. “We probably threw the ball seven, eight, nine times a game out of the wishbone. If I had played three years at quarterback running the same offense I did at Raines, it might have been different.”
Instead, he was drafted as a wide receiver by San Francisco and went to Minnesota after two seasons. In nine years in the league, he caught 89 passes, seven for touchdowns.
But he also found the demon that would threaten to ruin his life.
The “One Day at a Time” chip he carries in his pocket at all times tells the story of a guy who survived the bad times. That included a meeting with Steve Spurrier when he was the coach of the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits after LeCount was cut loose by the NFL.
“I never practiced,” he said. “I think the word had gotten through the grapevine. I was gone the next day.”
He went to Jacksonville, returning to his hometown to play for the USFL Bulls. He never practiced there either, failing his physical for a positive drug test.
“If not for the substance abuse, I could have played another 13 years,” he said.
It was in San Francisco that cocaine latched itself on to him.
“Fun, not thinking,” he said. “I drank a little, but it didn’t do much for me. I smoked a joint. But the first time I did (cocaine) I went, ‘Oooohhh.’ They had me. I didn’t know at the time.”
The epiphany came in 1991 when he was working for the school system in San Francisco.
“I still was dipping after work,” he said. “One day I was so tired I urinated in my clothes walking down the street. I went upstairs and cried like I never cried in my life, fell to my knees crying. That was it.
“You don’t want anyone to know so you don’t reach out for help. When I relinquished that, I reached out for help.”
He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at a place called Dry Docks in San Francisco and found a network of friends.
“You’d walk out of those meetings and there would be bars everywhere,” he said. “So you had to be strong.
“We’d go to dinners and breakfast so there was a social element. If someone wasn’t there we’d call him missing in action and go call him. Everybody kept tabs.”
Three years after he had cleaned up, he ran into one of his old dealers. Rather than walk away, he talked to him. But he didn’t hear a word.
“I was blank,” he said. “And when I walked away, I heard God say to me, ‘I got your back.’ That day I got rid of all my phone numbers of anyone who had ever dealt to me.”
In 2004, LeCount moved to Atlanta because he had rekindled a relationship with an old college girlfriend. Valjean Daniels attended Buchholz High and Florida. They were married and he went to work teaching kindergarten students.
It was Valjean who mentioned the College Football Hall of Fame. LeCount wanted to apply, but needed an in. He called his old college coach Doug Dickey, who put in a good word for him.
“When I interviewed, I told them that I already had a job, but I wanted this one,” he said.
And he got it. Now, he is one of the faces of this magnificent building.
When former Gators players visit, they are surprised to see him and rekindle old relationships. Then there was this one Florida fan who brought his family.
He told LeCount, now 62, of the time they were in the infirmary at UF together. LeCount signed his cast. The fan brought the cast with him because he had kept it all those years.
“It’s amazing how many people you can touch,” LeCount said.
LeCount still goes back to Gainesville for games and recently attended a Dan Mullen alumni outing.
“I walked up to Dan and said, ‘I’m the quarterback you’re looking for. I’m your dual threat,’ ” he said.
They shared a laugh.
LeCount fingered the AA chip in his pocket. That is really something to smile about.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.