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HERALD DYNAMITE DOZEN PROFILE -- Tray Stephens: 'The silent killer'

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAWSON -- The dreams are real, live and in Technicolor, vivid and full of life, just like the young man who dreams them.

Ask anyone who has ever seen Terrell County free safety Tray Stephens pick off a pass in a football game, and they will all say the same thing.

"It's like he knows what's going to happen before it happens," Terrell County linebacker Jovantae Peters said.

Maybe he does. After all, Stephens picks off passes in his sleep almost every night.

"I never day-dream about getting a pick,'' Stephens said. "But I dream about them at night. I dream about them a lot. I wake up in the morning feeling pretty good about it.''

They feel pretty good about Stephens at Terrell County, where the Greenwave have a chance to not only make the playoffs for the first time in two years but possibly make a historical run.

"I don't think we've ever been past the second round of the playoffs, and that's my goal this year,'' said Stephens, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection who plays receiver and free safety. Stephens, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, has another goal, as well: To break the school's record of 11 interceptions in a season.

He picked off nine as a junior, and opened the season last week with two interceptions against Class AAA Monroe in a 32-12 loss. The tricky part about his nine picks a year ago was that he did it in just seven games.

"I thought I was going to break the record, but nobody threw the ball near me during the last three games of the season,'' Stephens said. "I hope that doesn't happen this year. I really want to break the record. I want to stake my name on it and give people something to remember me (for).''

Those candid words coming from a shy kid like Stephens aren't just shocking, but almost unheard of -- literally.

That's because Stephens simply doesn't talk about himself, and while talking to The Herald he was shy and reserved.

"He's humble,'' Terrell County coach William Huff said. "He's very quiet, kind of a loner. He is so shy, almost to the point of being withdrawn. I've been here since 1997 and we've never had a kid make the Dynamite Dozen, so I had the team together to announce it. When I did, Tray just kind of ducked his head down and smiled a little. He's just shy.''

Stephens isn't shy about flying all over the field, snatching balls in midair and taking away interceptions and hope from opponents.

He had two game-saving interceptions last year.

Terrell County was clinging to a 14-8 lead against Bacon County, which was driving for the winning TD in the closing minutes when Stephens stepped in front of a pass to put the game away. Two weeks later, Atkinson was inside Terrell County's 20-yard line with the Greenwave clinging to a 13-7 lead in the final minute of the game when Stephens came out of nowhere to make his second pick of the game.

It is more than a luxury to have Stephens roaming the secondary. He's like a security blanket.

"You know he's back there,'' began Peters, "and you know he'll be there. He just comes out of nowhere. I was at cornerback last year and I came up on a play and my man got behind me. I turned around and there was Tray, making a pick and going the other way. You can trust him. When everybody gets beat, Tray is there.''

That's about the only time Stephens makes any noise -- on the field.

"He is real quiet,'' said Adrian Gardner, who starts on both sides of the line for Terrell. "He doesn't say much. He leads by his actions. He's like a silent killer. He may not talk all that noise, but when he hits you, you know you've been hit.''

That's all Stephens needs, a nickname like "Silent Killer." It fits for all the right reasons.

"You look up and he's not there,'' Huff said. "They throw the ball, and he's got it going the other way.''

The Terrell County players almost expect Stephens to pick off anything over the middle of the field.

"I'll be on defense and I see the ball go in the air, and I know Tray's got it,'' Gardner said. "And I start getting ready to block because he will be going the other way. That's what happened against Seminole last year. The minute I saw Tray closing on the ball, I was ready to block.''

Stephens has never taken an interception back for a TD, but he has made a long journey to get to where he is today. He didn't even play as a freshman or sophomore and was eager last year when he finally got his chance.

"I just thought, finally I am going to play,'' said Stephens, who started playing football as a 7-year-old in the rec leagues. "I was excited. It brings back a lot of images in my mind. It was crazy. I knew the game, but I was inexperienced. I started dreaming about getting a pick in a game.''

When he was awake, Stephens was working to learn everything about being a free safety, and soaked up everything he could like a sponge that just wanted more.

"He has grown so much,'' Huff said. "I would like to say I looked at Tray and said you're going to be a great free safety, but I didn't foresee that. We're a single-A school. He was all we had at free safety. Tray has worked to make himself the free safety he is.

"All we can do is scout the teams and put him in position. Tray makes the plays. He is a student of the game. He stays on top of it in practice. Mentally, he is always there.''

And there is a natural talent, too -- one that Stephens has nurtured and watched blossom.

"He has natural instincts. He has a feel for it,'' Huff said. "It's more of his attitude. We give him a scouting report, and nine times out of 10 he's in the right place at the right time. He's very instinctive. His mental preparedness coupled with his instincts to be where he needs to be is what makes him a great safety.''

The record is there for Stephens to try to reach out and snatch this season, but what he wants even more is a run in the playoffs.

"I want to help put Terrell on the map,'' said Stephens, who also plays receiver. He caught 12 passes for 263 yards and two TDs last year and wants to do more as a senior.

"This is the best team we've had since I've been here,'' he added. "It would mean so much to me for us to go to the playoffs. And if we went past the second round, it would mean history. I want to break the (interceptions) record, (but I) really want to go to the playoffs.''

That kind of thinking doesn't surprise Huff.

"That's the way he carries himself,'' Huff said. "He doesn't look for the glory. He (just) wants the team to win. He deserves the attention, but his head will not swell up. He just wants to do more to help the team win. If he intercepted every ball, he would still be the same. He's a blessing for us to have him on this team.''