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A.J. Terrell was raised in Atlanta and is proud to represent it with the Falcons. That's not just evident when he wears black, white and red on Sunday afternoons. It's clear every day, when he's an active member of the community that has helped him thrive.

By Scott Bair

ATLANTA – A.J. Terrell stood in the middle of Ben Hill park and surveyed the open field before him. The Falcons cornerback was both present while describing the area and somehow transported to a different time in this exact same place, reliving good memories forever seared into his mind.

He saw the park through younger eyes, as it looked to an 10-, 11-, 12-year old playing for the Metro Atlanta Youth Football League's Oomp Squad over a decade ago now.

"When I was a kid coming here, it used to be grass instead of turf," Terrell said. "Everything looked the same, though not as well developed as it is now. The game days used to be crazy. They used to have tons of fans, and people from all over used to come and watch us play games from morning to night.

"It was a sight to see."

Terrell was part of a great football generation from this portion of Atlanta, though he may be the best member of it. Hard work, discipline and a tight-knit, supportive family transformed that young kid into a Westlake High and Clemson star, then a first-round draft pick who has become one of the NFL's best at his position.

Terrell is a rock who projects both stability and confidence these days, someone truly comfortable in his own skin. He's typically soft-spoken in public, rarely showing emotional displays.

There were telltale signs, in his cadence and vocal tone, that being here at Ben Hill, on a 404 Day celebration with an army of supporters helping beautify this place, truly means something.

"I played here, right on this field," Terrell said. "I used to practice on the back field. My coaches from back then helped mold be into the man I am today. The vision was always clear, even as a kid. This place has always meant a lot to me. Now that we're here giving back, it makes it even more special."

It means something to represent his city and his family well. It means something to be a role model to those in his neighborhood, a beacon of light and hope and proof that hard work pays off.


"This is an honor and a responsibility of mine, to give back in any way that I can," Terrell said. "It's something I take pride in and something that has always been in my heart, to give back to Ben Hill and the places all around Atlanta that have shaped me."

Big events like the Falcons' 404 Day celebration are important. They shine bright lights on places that need them most.

Terrell didn't just parachute in for the event, smile for the cameras and bounce right back out.

Terrell is a fixture in and around here.

He comes back to his family home almost every day. He's a regular at Westlake High, where his brother Avieon is a star cornerback with Power 5 scholarship offers resting at his feet.

He has also shown support for local athletics – he hosts a track invitational each spring and has come back to Ben Hill to counsel the latest Oomp squads. Other times you'll just find him at this park running gassers or ladder drills in the offseason, just being part of this community.

"It's still a family atmosphere when we come out here," A.J.'s father, Aundell Terrell Sr., said. "We had some wonderful times – big wins, tough losses -- with people watching up on the hill. There's a lot of history here."

The Terrells have quite a history at Westlake High. A.J.'s a second-team All-Pro in just his second NFL season. Avieon's on the rise and seemingly destined for big things. Their two sisters, Ariel and Arieaunna, ran college track. The family's weekends have always been packed with athletic events, now from watching Avieon under Friday night lights through A.J. playing Sundays down on Northside Drive.

Those weekends end with a family dinner. That includes A.J. after home games, when he makes the short drive from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in time for the late NFL slate and a home-cooked meal.

You can tell that means something to Aundell Terrell Sr. It's a point of pride that he and wife Aliya created a structure for their children to thrive, with the humility to respect and appreciate those who supported them along the way.


"I don't wear it on my sleeve as much, but I'm the happiest dad in the world," Aundell Terrell Sr. said. "I'll be the first to tell you and I'm proud to say that everything we've been given as a family was earned."

A.J. Terrell has earned a place among the elites at his profession while representing the city where he grew up. Some athletes don't like playing close to home, with all the distractions that come with it.

Terrell views it as a golden opportunity.

He said being drafted by Atlanta in 2020 was surreal. He still feels that way, even after two whirlwind years living in this reality.

"Just thinking back over the whole process, it's so crazy how everything worked out," Terrell said. "Events like this remind you how much of a blessing things are. Coming from a city like Atlanta, playing in front of all my friends and family and coaches and everyone who supported me all these years is incredible. Now doing it on a bigger platform, as a Falcon, is something I imagined."

Now that dream is real life. Terrell's drive to be a fully committed member of this community has never been stronger, and he wants this place to be as special to his young son as it is to him. Aundell Terrell III is just two years old, nearly three, but over time he'll get to know Atlanta as well as his father and learn how key it is to be present and active in a community that has given them so much.

"It's so important, understanding where he came from and who he came from, understanding that there's so much joy in these moments, " A.J. Terrell said. "I want him to understand the importance of giving back and the importance of seeing me trying to do everything right, so he can look back on his times as a kid and see that I always had his best interests in mind."

Several members of the Falcons and Truist organizations revitalized outdoor spaces at Ben Hill Recreation Center in honor of 404 Day. The efforts were led by cornerback A.J. Terrell, who played youth football at the center growing up.


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