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'Leadership can be lonely': Terry Fontenot's improbable rise to becoming Falcons general manager

A devastating injury and phone call led Fontenot to the NFL.

Terry Fontenot had the exciting day circled on the calendar that hung in his room – LaGrange High School's first practice.

Fontenot, then an 11-year-old at Oak Park Middle school in Lake Charles, La., loved football. He envisioned himself suiting up for nearby LaGrange in a few years.


When the day came, Fontenot hopped on his bike after school ended at Oak Park and took the just under two-mile trip to LaGrange. He found a comfortable spot in the bleachers and pulled out his notebook and pad, much like a college or professional scout would.

"I didn't know what I was doing, but I just knew I liked the game, and I liked watching it," Fontenot said. "I was just a [football] junkie."

Fontenot would go on to star as a defensive back at LaGrange, sneaking his way to the varsity football team as a scrawny freshman. During his high school years, Fontenot practically lived in the weight room, studying film, and practicing on the field, often by himself. Those moments taught him a valuable lesson.

"Leadership can be lonely sometimes," Fontenot said, "and that's ok. Sometimes you're gonna be by yourself."

That theme didn't change on national signing day. Fontenot was alone as the only LaGrange player to earn a full football scholarship, when he signed his letter of intent to play at the University of Tulane.

His college career came to a sudden and heartbreaking end, though, when he broke his leg in the fourth game of his senior season. Fontenot noticeably struggles when remembering the painful moment today.

"To have that abrupt ending in the game I loved so much," Fontenot said, "it was hard for it to end like that."

Fontenot began focusing on his life after football.

He applied for an internship with the New Orleans Saints at the advice of Tulane's director of academic services. Shortly after applying, he was offered an internship with the Saints in Marketing and Community Affairs, but Fontenot politely declined.

Minutes later, his phone was ringing again.

"Terry, do you realize what people do to get their foot in the door in the National Football league?" Janella Newsome, then assistant director of community affairs, told Fontenot. "This is a big deal. I really think you should consider interviewing."

Thanks to that follow-up call, the frail, peanut-headed — as Fontenot described himself — 11-year-old is now living his wildest dream. He graduated from the stands at LaGrange High School to as high as assistant general manager in 16 seasons with the Saints and is now tasked with returning the Falcons to prominence as the general manager after a seven-win first season.

For more on Fontenot's story, you can watch "From Intern to General Manager" visit the Atlanta Falcons YouTube page.


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