Scrolling through the Charlotte football team’s media guide, a common name dots the pages.
Terrance Winchester, a redshirt senior defensive back, leads the school in almost every defensive category. The program’s all-time leader in career takeaways and interceptions, he holds the single-season marks as well.
Such records can be matched, or even broken, but Winchester forever etched his name in the program’s history when he scored Charlotte’s first FBS touchdown on a 43-yard fumble return against Georgia State a season ago.
Now, with the end of his college career looming, the former walk-on has allowed himself to reflect, even if it’s just for moments at a time, on the impact he’s made.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” Winchester said. “I don’t really like to think about stuff like that, but from where I came from as a walk-on, I feel like I’ve succeeded. I don’t let anyone take anything from me.”
More often than not, it’s Winchester doing the taking.
How are you going to help?
The opportunity to make his mark on the program originally drew Winchester to Charlotte.
A track star at Berry Academy, he was a member of the 4-by-100 and 4-by-200 relay teams that won state 2A track championships on the same afternoon. He also excelled on the football field, earning all-conference honors twice with the Cardinals.
He didn’t receive any scholarship offers though.
The 49ers were just starting their football program when Winchester graduated high school. The coaching staff offered him a preferred walk-on spot and a chance to prove himself, but the uncertainties about a program still in its early stages weighed heavily as he made his decision.
Winchester researched information about Georgia State, which had just launched its football program in 2008. He ultimately opted to take a leap of faith.
“You don’t really get that opportunity. A lot of people don’t,” he said of helping to start a program. “So how are you going to help? You’re either going to hurt it, or you’re going to help it.”
The latter has certainly been the case. After receiving a scholarship ahead of the 49ers’ inaugural season in 2013, Winchester led the team with three interceptions as a redshirt freshman. He then shared the Conference USA lead with a school-record four picks a season ago.
Then injuries threatened to keep him from sustaining his success.
Still a part of it
During the first half of Charlotte’s season opener at Louisville this year, Winchester left the game with a separated right shoulder. A victim of knee and shoulder injuries, both of which required surgery, during the previous two seasons, he didn’t dwell over yet another.
This injury’s severity was unbeknownst to him.
He returned to the field two weeks later for the 49ers’ 37-19 loss to Eastern Michigan, only to find himself back on the sideline the next week after re-aggravating the injury against Temple.
Five weeks and four games passed, but he still remained sidelined. His final season was slipping away.
“I’m used to injury, and I’ve been sidelined so much,” Winchester said. “You’ve just got to take from it and learn from it. When I got hurt, the coaches asked me just to be a leader while I was hurt. That’s just what I had to do.”
With Winchester advising Charlotte’s young defensive backs, the team started turning a corner. A 1-4 start gave way to a 2-2 mark over the next four games. Both victories came against C-USA opponents, whom the 49ers were previously 0-9 against since joining the conference.
This was what Winchester had hoped for when he joined the program. While he couldn’t take the field, he still knew his and his class’ contributions helped Charlotte reach this point.
“I know I’m still a part of it, even if I didn’t play in the first conference win,” he said. “Everybody is. The scout team and everybody is a part of it. It just makes you feel better when you get to get back out there so you can force yourself to say, ‘Hey, man, what can I do to have that feeling?’ ”
It was one he wasn’t ready to have taken away quite yet.
All worth it
After Winchester returned the fumble for a touchdown in the season opener against Georgia State a season ago, he added an interception, tying the school record for takeaways in a game.
Upon his return to practice last week, he heard redshirt senior linebacker E.J. Rhinehart clamoring for a similar performance as the 49ers prepared for their road game against Southern Mississippi last Saturday. He didn’t disappoint.
Locked in a 7-7 tie late in the first quarter, Winchester leapt in the air and snagged an interception in the end zone, halting what had been a successful drive by the Golden Eagles.
“It seemed like I had done all that therapy and all that waiting just for one play,” Winchester said. “And it was all worth it.”
He wasn’t finished though. Rhinehart had asked for two takeaways, after all.
Trailing 38-27, Souther Mississippi’s offense took over on its own 40-yard line with 4 minutes, 56 seconds left, looking to mount a comeback. Nine plays later, Winchester hauled in his second interception of the game and the ninth of his career.
The performance earned him C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors. More importantly, it gave Charlotte its third win in its past four games, putting the 49ers in position to become bowl eligible for the first time in program history with two wins in their final three games of the season.
Doctors have told Winchester it’s just a matter of time before he re-injures his shoulder. Just like he did with past ones, though, he’s determined to not let this injury deprive him of what he set out to accomplish when he arrived on campus five years ago.
“It just lets me know everything I’ve done is not in vain,” he said. “It would be hard if I had three or four surgeries and no playing time. It seems like I’m cursed in one part of the season and the other part I’m blessed.”