BEREA — Terrance West’s eyes had doubled in size.
“Wow. THE Jim Brown,” he said, with the smile of a kid walking into Disney World.
West, a rookie running back, met Brown, a Hall of Famer, for the first time Monday. They chatted again Wednesday after training camp practice, and the thrill hadn’t diminished.
“It’s just amazing, man,” West said seconds after saying goodbye to Brown. “He’s the best to ever play the game of football. So it’s just amazing just to be here and have a conversation with him.”
Dozens of running backs have followed in the massive footsteps since Brown retired in his prime after the 1965 season. None compares to arguably the greatest player in NFL history — though Leroy Kelly joined him in the Hall of Fame — and not all of them appreciated the chance to spend time with Brown.
“I met him two practices ago,” West said. “It was amazing. I was walking out, getting ready for practice and I heard somebody say, ‘T. West.’ I turned around and it was Jim Brown. It was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know what to say.’”
West was insulted when asked if he had watched film of Brown’s playing days.
“Of course. Everyone has,” he said. “I always watch film of him. Like a day before a game I watch film. Always. Since I was playing Pop Warner.”
West fits right in with the middle-aged Northeast Ohio men who still worship Brown and wear No. 32 jerseys to the stadium. He thinks Brown is the best of all time.
“Yes, of course, hands down,” he said. “I was saying it in high school and Pop Warner.”
Brown can be harsh in his critique of young backs. He took a lot of grief for calling Trent Richardson “ordinary” before the Browns drafted him No. 3 in 2012. Richardson was traded last year and has averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Brown hasn’t broken down the film of West, but he had kind words for the third-round pick out of Towson University.
“He said he likes my attitude and performance,” West said. “He sees that I’m a determined guy and I’m special.”
West wasn’t shy about being nervous in front of a man who rushed for 12,312 yards and averaged 5.2 per carry.
“I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “He just wanted to hear my story. A couple of guys told him my story of what I had to overcome to get here right now. He loved the determination. That I never gave up.
“To be in the Dawg Pound, to be a great running back, that’s what you have to be, you have to be determined.”
West had issues with his test scores out of high school that made him ineligible to play in Division I. He wound up walking on at Towson without being recruited, but not before working at a shoe store.
It’s quite a journey from Baltimore shoe store to hanging out with Brown in Berea, and Towson coach Rob Ambrose was there for every step. Including no scholarship to start, no playing time in his first game and one bizarre play during a short-yardage drill.
“He was impressive,” Ambrose told The Chronicle-Telegram. “Three in a row, wow. Then the fourth play might be the worst football play by an individual ever. He ran to the hole and backpedaled.”
It’s been full steam ahead since.
“His work ethic and competitiveness are rare,” Ambrose said. “He’s been a great worker, has great focus, doesn’t get sidetracked from his goals. He doesn’t want to just make it there, wants to stay there.
“He’s a great kid, a really good human being. He’s good-hearted and has a good soul.”
West is behind veteran Ben Tate on the depth chart, but it remains a competition for the role of lead back. At 5-foot-10 and a sturdy 225 pounds, West has the tools desired in a workhorse.
“He’s not like the guys that are his size,” Ambrose said. “Guys his size aren’t supposed to be able to move the way he moves and have the balance he does. Outside of 4.3 track speed, he’s got it all. Great balance, very good vision, he can make you miss and punish you. Not a lot of guys can make you miss and make you hurt.”
West has shown flashes of the brilliance that totaled 4,849 yards and 84 touchdowns in three years at Towson. He rushed for 41 touchdowns last year.
In the preseason opener Saturday, he gained 22 yards on 10 carries. He had a long of 10, and the numbers were skewed by several runs where he was met behind the line and lost yards.
“I was happy. I got positive yards,” he said. “A couple plays I had nowhere to go and I got back to the line. And the most key part is I had no fumbles.”
Tate rushed six times for 25 yards and had a fumble he recovered.
“When he puts his foot in the ground he’s going to change gears,” Ambrose said of West. “I don’t know how many homers of 40 yards he’ll hit. But he’ll hit a (boatload) of doubles and triples. He’ll get you first downs and put the ball in the end zone.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine plans on naming his starting lineup next week after the Monday night game in Washington. West doesn’t think it’s too late for him to earn a spot.
“My job is to control only what I can control. That’s to come out here and perform and make it hard on the coaches to see who starts on Sunday,” he said. “That’s my job.”
Towson coordinator Jared Ambrose knew West wouldn’t shrink on the NFL stage.
“He does not lack for confidence at all,” he said. “Put him next to Peyton Manning and he’ll say, ‘Why are you throwing the ball, give me the damn ball.’
“It’s part of what makes him great. He has a competitive streak in him. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ben Tate or Walter Payton next to him, the guy wants the ball.”
West has a Payton move in his repertoire. When he reaches the secondary, West likes to delay and break into a high-step.
He didn’t learn that from Brown.
“No, he ran through you,” West said.