When he felt everyone had given up on him, Tyrese Chambers got on a horse.
He rode through fields and farms, gazing at a sparse Kansas landscape and searching for solace. As the horse trotted along, Chambers’ mind often drifted back to the same question: Where am I going next?
The receiver was at Fort Scott, a junior college far from his East Baltimore home. It became a key step in a winding journey that brought the Poly alum back to Maryland — this time to College Park as a graduate transfer for the Terps.
Each stop gave Chambers a lesson. His lone semester at Fort Scott taught him grace and patience. Two seasons at Sacred Heart, in the Football Championship Subdivision, taught him how to wait his turn. Two more at Florida International, where he graduated and found the continued success that put him on the radar of Power Five schools, taught him to market himself and capitalize on name, image and likeness.
None of it was guaranteed. Even as Chambers recalls his ascent, its improbability shocks him.
“You gotta be different to make it out of [junior college],” he said. “You gotta be built different. You gotta have a different type of mentality. You just gotta be hungry for real. Just talking about it right now, just thinking about it, it’s crazy that I was able to make it out of that stuff. It was crazy, man.”
The isolation of Fort Scott, a town with a listed population of under 8,000, forced Chambers to develop new passions. Horseback riding was one, offering him the ability to clear his mind. He got his horse, Mercedes, from a teammate who had accomplished every junior college player’s ultimate dream: leaving for a university.
Chambers has few fond memories of Fort Scott.
He spent his first two weeks sleeping in the laundry room because it didn’t have a real room ready for him. He dealt with holes in the ceiling, rodents scurrying past, a meager weight room and more in what ended up being the team’s dying days.
“It’s like hell, literally,” he said.
The Greyhounds football program folded in 2021. School officials blamed limited resources, while The Topeka Capital-Journal cited “on-field performances, high personnel turnover and a player’s death [due to heatstroke].”
Chambers turned to prayer to persevere as he slept to the rumbles of washers and dryers. He focused on two Bible verses that he said changed his life.
The first, Micah 7:8, says, “even though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” The second, Proverbs 3:6, says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.”
The words offered comfort to someone lying in the dark with an uncertain future. Chambers didn’t expect to take this route, especially after he finished his senior season with Poly on USA Today’s Maryland first-team all-state list.
“Tyrese had a hunger,” then-Engineers head coach Dwayne Green said. “... He wanted to be the guy.”
Current head coach and then-defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Marquise O’Neal recalled a game against Tuscarora in Chambers’ senior year in which he “was on a different level than the competition and pretty much everybody.”
Chambers went to Poly’s quarterback at halftime, per O’Neal, and demanded the ball. The receiver finished with nine catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns, the last coming with just seconds left as the deciding blow in a two-point win.
He caught 51 passes for over 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. But the numbers didn’t bring in the college opportunities he desired.
“I didn’t have no offers coming out of high school,” he said. “It was a sad, depressing time. … It was heartbreaking for me.”
Chambers went to junior college, starting at Tyler Community College before going to Fort Scott. He called the latter “treacherous” but noted an arduous upbringing prepared him for the challenges.
His mom, Bre Williams, has a wall in her Baltimore home dedicated to him. The shrine sports the receiver’s first name across the top with a mix of photos, awards, jerseys and more below. That’s not the house he grew up in — in fact, Chambers estimates he lived in around 16 places before going to college.
He said poverty and its effects forced him to grow up quickly. Chambers lived with his mom and sisters, making him “the man of the house.” His brothers were in the streets; they were shot around two months apart, and one was arrested when Chambers was either 10 or 11, per Williams.
“My son came, he cried to me and hugged me so tight,” Williams said of Chambers’ reaction. “He said, ‘Mom, I swear, I’m never going to be like them,’ and he meant that. And it might sound cliché, it might be hard to believe, but he’s been doing the right thing ever since that day.”
Chambers doesn’t recall that exact conversation but said he did give his mom an overview of how he saw his life going compared to his brothers’. He knew he had to make a decision on how his life would go and, with two distinct paths in front of him, he chose one that helped him reach his goal of breaking the cycle.
“I wanted to be the one to put my kids in private school, put my kids in a better community, take care of my mom, get her a house and a car, get her out of the trenches, get my family out of there and put all my loved ones in position to be successful.”
Tyrese Chambers, Maryland wide receiver
“I wanted to be the one to put my kids in private school, put my kids in a better community,” he said, “… take care of my mom, get her a house and a car, get her out of the trenches, get my family out of there and put all my loved ones in position to be successful.”
The money he’s earned from NIL, including a $40,000 deal with LifeWallet at FIU, has helped him start to do that. He also became the first in his family to graduate from college, with a degree in liberal arts and marketing.
Chambers broke T.Y. Hilton’s school records for single-season receiving yards and touchdowns in his first year as a Panther. He got backlash for predicting he’d do so, with people sending him harsh and indignant direct messages.
“It would make me smile because I’m glad that they don’t think I can do it,” he said.
Two messengers received a curt but self-explanatory reply from the receiver — a screenshot of the record.
Chambers’ success with FIU came despite a slow start. He only notched his first 100-yard game in Week 4 of the 2021 campaign. Two years prior, he didn’t record a single catch in his first game with Sacred Heart.
The delayed production has followed him to Maryland. Chambers had two catches for 9 yards in the season opener, missed the second game of the year due to turf toe and returned against Virginia only to have one reception.
Terps coach Michael Locksley said Tuesday he feels Chambers is fully back and in the right mental space to contribute.
“I’m excited to see him back to the old Tyrese where whenever his number was called in practice and scrimmages, he made plays,” the coach said.
Chambers, speaking before the Week 3 win against UVA, seemed confident that, just as in those previous stops, success was imminent.
“I don’t know why it always be like this, but I’m [going to] find a way to make it happen,” he said.
“... Every single year, I feel like God put me through the same test in the beginning because he [knows] I’m built for it. So [I’m] just waiting to be let loose here and put it on for the state one last time.”