Gabe Terry’s mother, Grisselle Morales, attends every Miami home game, planting herself in the front row behind the team bench.
“Come on, Gabe! Let’s go, Gabe!” she screams nonstop.
He says, “ ‘Mom! Everyone can hear you!’ ” Morales said Monday, laughing.
Terry, named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week, told his mother that his blocked punt against Virginia Tech — UM’s first blocked punt since 2008 — was for her.
“She was like, ‘You did that punt block just for me?’ ” the freshman said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, Mom. It was just for you.’ ”’
This 19-year-old linebacker from Wellington has had a tough life, and he’s learning to savor each gift as it comes, explained his mom.
“He’s getting used to the adjustment,” Morales said. “This is all new to him.”
Terry’s path has been strewn with obstacles. His father is serving a life sentence in a Central Florida prison for a 2001 murder.
His mom, who studied cosmetology, also served time in prison for her part in a 2004 bank robbery, she confirmed.
In eighth grade, after being arrested for burglary and larceny, Terry went to Boys Town, a center for at-risk youth in Omaha, Neb. He spent more than three years there, rehabilitating, playing sports and turning around his life.
“Out there I grew up,” Terry said. “I was young, and I don’t even know how to say it, just a little out of control. I had to grow up and learn some social skills and learn how to carry myself like a young teenager. It really did help me.”
He said he visits his father, Clarence Terry, “a few times a year.” The two were huge Hurricanes fans together before Clarence went to prison.
“I loved the program,” said Terry, who has a 9-year-old brother and 10-month-old sister. “It was my dream school, my dad’s dream school. I always wanted to play here.”
Terry, now 6-3 and 205 pounds, played his final year of football at Palm Beach Central High as a linebacker with 58 tackles and six sacks. He also won a state wrestling championship in the 195-pound class.
He has played in six games this season, but only as a linebacker for a few plays. He started the season as a rush end, but last served that role on Sept. 8 at Kansas State.
“He just wasn’t ready for it,” said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, who called Terry an “explosive” player. “His talent was ready for it, but his maturity level at the time, and his preparation, didn’t enable him to execute at the level we wanted him to execute.
“They’re not always ready when you want them to be ready. Some guys have to take some lumps and go through their ups and downs.”
UM fans might recall the Notre Dame game, when Terry was flagged on fourth down for roughing the punter to give the Irish a first down en route to a touchdown. UM coach Al Golden said it was “a tough lesson” for all of them, but Terry emerged better because of it.
“He went down low for the ball,” Golden said of his block against Virginia Tech, which was followed two plays later by a UM touchdown. “He elongated. He didn’t put his hand up high like he did at Notre Dame. He just gave great effort.
“I was very impressed when we got to the special teams meeting Wednesday and he stood up and spoke about one of the units. He’s a very bright young man.”
Terry’s playing time, for now, is confined to special teams. He will be on punt block and kickoff coverage units for sure when UM (5-4, 4-2 ACC) meets Virginia (3-6, 1-4) on Saturday in Charlottesville.
“I understand completely that I’m a freshman and I still have to learn that I don’t know everything yet,” he said, noting that he finally understands the importance of special teams. “If you take it serious, good things will happen.”
Terry’s journey to manhood continues. He was suspended for a game this season for an undisclosed reason, his mother said, but “little by little he’s getting there.
“He’s very outgoing, a people person,” she said. “He’s still growing. We all are.”
Meanwhile, Terry said he “supports and loves” his family and has learned to focus on his responsibilities, “so I can someday make it better for my own family.”