Bringing it Together
Being the first to break a barrier always means you shoulder a weight, Jonathan “J.T.” Terrell (BA ‘98) says. But at the same time he feels like people such as Dr. Cleveland Hill, first black athlete and former Nicholls dean, have eased the burden.
Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune named Terrell the first Black Nicholls Athletics Director on June 22, 2020.
“You feel like you have things to prove,” the former Colonel football player says. “But what I have been able to accomplish has been on the shoulders of many pioneers who have come before me.”
Country in Turmoil
The hiring took place during a summer marked by national protests and a global pandemic. The #blacklivesmatter movement has melded with sports as professional and collegiate athletes lend their voices to spread awareness. Terrell compares that to the 1960s when a handful of athletes risked their careers to advance equal rights.
“Now, you have whole leagues standing up and saying enough is enough,” he says. “That movement is very powerful, and we know our student-athletes here see what is happening. We want to make sure our athletes are able to do something if they want.”
Terrell emphasizes action on that front. The department has put together a leadership council so students can voice their concerns and make sure they are being heard.
A lot has changed since Terrell last suited up for the Colonels, but he is happy to see the impact athletes can have to change society for the better.
“People love athletics, so that gives college athletes today a big opportunity to not just talk about it, but also to be about it,” Terrell says. “You can’t just be about something for a moment because it is a trend. You have to be about it, like they did in Mississippi and helped in getting the state flag changed.”
In addition to grappling with nationwide protests, Terrell has had to navigate the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 virus.
“When your dream job is to be the Nicholls athletic director and there are no fall sports, it’s tough,” he says. “But the biggest deal with COVID-19 is to just keep the mindset that the tough times won’t last, tough people do.”
And besides, Terrell says he has an advantage. Having been a student athlete, a coach and involved in Nicholls fundraising, he had a previous relationship with the coaches.
“I can only imagine how hard it would have been if I had to build all of those relationships on top of dealing with COVID-19, the social justice movement, the canceled spring sports and the financial burden of testing. I was very fortunate to be in this position with people who know me, trust me and will work with me.”
“When your dream job is to be the Nicholls athletic director and there are no fall sports, it’s tough. But the biggest deal with COVID-19 is to just keep the mindset that the tough times won’t last, tough people do.”
Road to AD
Coming from Slidell, Terrell was a first-generation college student. When he enrolled at Nicholls, he didn’t know a lot about Thibodaux and thought the sugarcane was corn.
“I didn’t think I would love this town as much as I do,” he says. “I guess I felt like an outsider for about five minutes, but then it became clear we were a team of people.”
He also had to grow up fast. As a sophomore he married his wife, Taryn, and had a child on the way.
“Taryn is caucasian, so I worried about how the town would accept that, but it was good,” he says. “We got a lot of prayers and of support.”
After graduating, Terrell coached in the high school ranks and came to Nicholls in 2004 to coach quarterbacks for coach Darryl Daye. After that season, he left the coaching ranks to pursue pharmaceutical sales. His honors include being named regional manager of the year three times and being named the top territory manager out of 550 in 2017.
In 2005, he also began volunteering for the athletic department. Since that time, he served as president of the First Down Club and co-founded the Huddle Up Club. Between the two he has raised more than $60,000 and saved the school more than $30,000.
“I didn’t want to leave, so I kept finding ways to be involved,” Terrell says, laughing. “What a crazy road I’ve been on. God has a way of putting people in your life and putting you in situations to get you into the situation he wants you in.”
On the Future
For student-athletes, Terrell says they want to get an opportunity to play in the spring.
“It gives our student-athletes who missed their seasons in the fall to look forward to something,” he says. “I don’t know if we will have a vaccine, I don’t know if we will have fans in the stands, but we are looking forward to the spring.”
Seeing as some other schools are having fall football seasons, Terrell says his office has received some criticism from fans. However, he says the decision to cancel the season was the right thing to do for student-athletes.
“Their parents have not only sent the student-athletes here to get an education and play ball, but they also want us to keep them safe,” he says. “That’s my job.”
For instance, the Southland Conference and Football Championship Subdivision will not crown champions this fall. Without the opportunity for the football team to attempt to three-peat as conference champions, Terrell did not feel like he could justify the costs of testing or putting the players in harm’s way this fall.
“We can give them the opportunity to really compete for something in the spring,” he says. “But the community needs to mask up and get behind the things scientists are asking us to do in order to move to the next phase.”
All of the athletic programs are in a good place, he says. He wants fans to pay attention this spring, as he would not be surprised if the Colonels win 5-6 Southland Conference Championship rings.
“We need to make sure we are competitive and competing for championships,” he says. “And that we continue to graduate young men and women who are productive in society.”
His part? Terrell says he will use the knowledge he gained over his life to make sure the school has the funds to keep upgrading the facilities. With the renovation on The Boucvalt Family Athletic Complex underway, Terrell says the next step is to continue progress toward the facilities they plan to build near Thibodaux Regional Medical Center.
And as Terrell continues to bring the program forward, he is easing the burden for the next generation of Colonels.
– Cain Madden