Although it’s been a while — too long, in fact — since I last blogged in this space, I’ve still been busy of late calling Navy football play-by-play and writing about the Midshipmen in my other professional roles of the season. Following are two recent features published in Navy’s game-day program. I hope you enjoy. And please come back soon for fresher content.
Tra’ves Bush: “The Quintessential Coach’s Player.”
By Bob Socci
October 20, 2012
You could hear Lee Sawyer’s smile all the way to Colorado Springs.
In just a few hours, he would coach the next game of his ninth season at Strom Thurmond High in Johnston, S.C., a rural patch of the South that proudly professes itself, `Peach Capital of the World.` Yet Sawyer was only too happy to take a few more minutes to share a few more anecdotes about a legacy associated with the town’s other great tradition: his football team.
Since Sawyer started coaching them in 2004, the Thurmond Rebels have won nearly 80 percent of their games, annually ranking among South Carolina’s top small schools. All that while seeking results more enduringly meaningful than Friday victories.
It’s why, for instance, Wednesday practices have long ended with what Sawyer calls life lessons. Sometimes he addresses his kids. Occasionally he invites outsiders in. The weekly moral of their message relates to life after high school, life after football. What Sawyer really wants are Rebels with a cause: good citizenship.
Perhaps no one better embodies what Sawyer wants his program to represent than someone he last coached in 2008; the young man who keeps him spinning stories in his deep Southern drawl late on a Friday afternoon.
“I could talk all day about him,” Sawyer says of Tra’ves Bush, the exemplary ex-Rebel who on this day as a Navy Midshipman awaits his final encounter with Air Force.
And so Sawyer continues, until he comes across a memory that seems to say it all.
He starts by offering a bit of background. Every summer, Sawyer tells his listener, the Rebels start out practicing in red jerseys. But as individuals distinguish themselves through on-and-off field effort, they’re awarded blue shirts.
During Bush’s career, he was annually the first to earn one. Eventually, a good number of teammates got theirs too.
But one day, well into Bush’s senior season, Sawyer was caught by surprise as he walked onto the practice field.
“All of our players had red jerseys on,” he recalled. “I wondered, `What in the world is going on?’ I called Tra’ves over and asked him, `Where’s your blue shirt?` He told me, `Coach we didn’t play well enough to wear them.'”Though undefeated at the time, Thurmond’s recent level of play had slipped below Bush’s standards. He decided that neither he nor anyone else was worthy of his honored attire. Before leaving the locker room, Bush ordered everyone back into red.
“I was floored,” Sawyer says, still marveling at the thought of a teenager holding his team accountable, while commanding the respect of so many willing to go along with him. “That’s all you need to know right there.”
If it isn’t, simply consider the declaration of independence Sawyer once made to assistant coaches. Contrary to his conservative coaching philosophy, he granted Bush the right to run a fake punt. His explanation was succinct, yet about as expansive as you can get.
“I trust Tra’ves Bush as much as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Sawyer told his staff then, and his audience now, on the fifth of this October.
Nearly 1,600 miles away, at a hotel in a cold and misty Colorado, another football coach could clearly identify. Buddy Green was about to test his game plan, as Navy’s defensive coordinator, the following morning against an academy rival.
Responsibility for carrying out that strategy would rest largely with a senior safety, and easily the most experienced member of the Mids’ secondary. As he’d often done before, Green would place his trust in Tra’ves.
Just like Sawyer. And, in fact, thanks to Sawyer.
Green first heard of Bush four years earlier, while manning the recruiting beat in the Carolinas. Bush had good grades, high test scores and an invitation to his state’s North-South all-star game in Myrtle Beach. What he didn’t have was the size of your typical Division I linebacker; or, as a result, a scholarship offer from a Division I program.
But Bush was tenacious, making him hard to overlook when it was time to select the showcase’s MVP. His North-South position coach was Robin Bacon. A few years earlier, Bacon had tutored another future Midshipman, Gee Gee Greene, during his freshman year at A.C. Flora High. According to Sawyer, his colleague Bacon described Bush as “one of the best kids he’s been around.”
Green was getting similar feedback.
“`You really need to take a look,'” Green remembers Bacon telling him. “`(Tra’ves) has everything you’re looking for in an Academy guy: character, grades, toughness.”
Never one to drop the ball, Green dropped a line to Sawyer. Twenty-four hours later, an overnight video tape arrived in Annapolis. Just as expeditiously, Green reached out to Bush.
“I loved what I saw,” Green said of Bush’s highlights. “He was relentless. He had all the things you’re looking for in a football player to make plays.”
“I didn’t know much about the Naval Academy before Coach Green called me,” Bush said a couple of weeks ago. “Initially, when he called me I wasn’t even thinking about coming here.”
But his outlook changed. As it did, his high school coach, who believed he was cut out for Academy life all along, had to make sure that Bush was certain of what he was getting into.
“For him to come from way out here in the country, with his (grades), that’s a testament to his self discipline,” Sawyer said of Bush, who ranked 12th in a high school class of 183. “When I found out Coach Green was interested in him, I knew he could handle it, but I wanted to make sure Tra’ves understood what was involved.
“I sat him down and said, `Now look, can you handle this?’ He didn’t even crack a smile. `Yes, coach,` he said. `I’ve already researched it.'”
It was the kind of conversation they often engaged in. Trust traveled both ways. Tra’ves was already fortunate to have a large and loving family foundation. Sawyer served as an extra layer of invaluable support.
“Throughout my high school years, my coach was a big factor in the person I am today,” says Bush, who learned Sawyer’s life lessons any day of the week. “He was a great mentor and a person I still talk to today, a great inspiration in my life.”
Theirs sounds like the kind of relationship one wishes for every young athlete and coach, or any student and teacher. Sadly, it’s one that not nearly enough enjoy.
And yet, it’s not the only one to benefit Bush. Since coming to Annapolis, he’s forged a similar connection to Green.
“He just made me feel comfortable about the whole place,” Bush said of his introduction to both Green and the Academy. “He’s been a great help since I’ve been here. Anything I need help with, he’s always looked out for me. He’s been a great coach and mentor since I’ve been here.”
Admiration, like the rewards of their rapport, are mutual.
For one thing, Bush’s parents, Scotty and Sabrina, don’t attend home games empty-handed. Often, they arrive bearing the main ingredient for Sharon Green’s peach cobbler.
But more than winning over Green’s heart through his stomach, Bush does it by way of his coach’s eyes. He appears to Green each day as a player dialed into the game’s finer points.
“Tra’ves is so detailed in the way he studies the opposition,” says Green, in his 11th year overseeing Navy’s defense. “His eyes are always in the right place. He wants to know very detail of our game plan. He controls what we do in the secondary.”
If there truly is such a thing as a player’s coach, then Bush is the quintessential coach’s player. Within the walls of the meeting room for defensive backs or boundaries of the field, he is the football equivalent of the old Shell Answer Man. Even when he’s the one seeking answers, others are enlightened.
“His questions in meetings help the other guys,” says Green, whose secondary is the youngest group on Navy’s roster, including several sophomores and freshmen playing extensively.
“Throughout meetings and throughout practices, a lot of times (younger guys) won’t ask questions,” Bush explains. “But you can see that they have a (puzzled) look on their faces.”
Bush’s understanding of the Mids’ defense is also enriched by his versatility. When it comes to experience, he’s got plenty of currency, appearing early in his career in Navy’s `Nickel’ and `Dime’ packages. Now he’s the regular at Rover.
Wherever he’s been, including the so-called Mike linebacker, Bush has made his mark.
Two years ago at East Carolina, he made 14 tackles and recovered a fumble. A couple of weeks later he returned an interception 32 yards against Arkansas State, bettered only by a 49-yard return for a score last season at Western Kentucky. One of three career thefts in 18 starts, his `pick six’ against the Hilltoppers was the greatest highlight of an ECAC All-East campaign.
Bush shows the hands of a true defensive back, while wearing out opponents with the mentality of a linebacker. Most importantly, he has the football IQ to understand the distinctions between the two.
“At linebacker you can be a lot more aggressive than in the secondary,” Bush explains. “At linebacker, if you have a ball thrown over you, you have the secondary behind you. At secondary, if they throw the ball over your head, it’s six points.
“I played linebacker all my life. Then when I came here, I got moved to safety. Sometimes I’ve got to try to be more passive because I’m the last line of defense.”
Attached to that line is the anchor of Navy’s secondary.
“You need a guy back there with confidence,” Green asserts, “and a great understanding of what we do.”
When Bush was younger, `that guy’ was 2011 graduate Wyatt Middleton, his predecessor at Rover.
“That’s the role I’ve been preparing for so long, being behind Wyatt,” Bush says. “Everybody knew he was a great player, but what people fail to realize is that he knew everything about the defense. If you had a question about anything, he knew (the answer).”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Edit Bush’s words into the present tense, and you’d think he’s talking about himself.
But the last time the Midshipmen were at home, on Sept. 29, they were left without Middleton’s one-time understudy, and their current go-to guy.
On the third play of San Jose State’s opening series, running back Tyler Ervin charged into a hole created by the right side of his offensive line. Bush sped forward, closing in on the ballcarrier. Helmets lowered and heads collided, causing Bush’s second concussion in as many years.
Seventy-two hours later, following a totally-inactive Monday, he remembered only running to make the tackle, before lying on the field. What occurred in between, literally a knockout blow, remained a blank only others could fill in.
But as the week unfolded, Bush cautiously met all the baseline criteria to ease into action. And by the time the Mids departed for Colorado Springs on Thursday, he was cleared to play. Assuming he stayed symptom free, Bush would have a prominent role defending the Falcons.
As much as he told himself not to rush back, Bush returned in a hurry. He had celebrated an overtime win over Air Force as a plebe, when Navy captured the last of its seven straight Commander-In-Chief’s championships. More recently, he lamented two close losses, including last year’s one-point overtime decision.
“It stays on your mind,” Bush said of the 35-34 defeat in 2011. “Throughout winter workouts, spring ball and the summer, that’s all you’re thinking about.”
His mind at ease, Bush returned. And three minutes into the 2nd quarter, his Mids trailing by four, he took part in an early turning point. Falcon fullback Broam Hart was hit by Cody Peterson, losing the football at Navy’s 24-yard line. Bush scooped it up and ran 15 yards in the other direction. The Mids capitalized on his recovery, redeeming it for a seven-play, 61-yard drive to a 10-7 lead.
Much later, with Navy ahead, 28-21, in still another overtime, Bush assisted on a second-down tackle. It was his team-leading 12th of the afternoon. Two more snaps, and two more stops by the Mids, and he was celebrating with his teammates.
The victory was as important as any in Bush’s career. It was at the expense of a rival academy, and decided with high drama. And, with Navy at 1-3, it was the kind of win that could salvage a season. The following Friday, in fact, the Mids improved to 3-3 with a rout of Central Michigan.
Imagine what it must have been like for Bush in the hours after marking his return in such a significant way, considering how he felt just a few days before.
“As a young child it was my dream to play college football,” Bush said in a hushed voice, still uncertain at the time whether he’d be ready to face Air Force. “Now I sit back and sometimes think, I’m actually living out my childhood dream. It’s a real humbling experience.”
Made possible by hard work, rooted in humility; the kind he observed from his mother and father, who labored in a textile and fiberglass plant, respectively.
“They’ve always wanted the best for me, and my brothers and sisters,” says Bush, whose three siblings range in age from 4 to 13. “Just seeing them work hard pushes me to try to do my best.”
Bush’s family didn’t just set examples; they fed his dreams with a steady diet of encouragement. They also sounded a constant and consistent message about schoolwork.
“His mother and father are great, hard-working people,” Sawyer assures. “His grandaddy and grandmother are good, solid people.”
“I have a big family on both my mom’s and dad’s sides,” says Tra’ves, who jokes that his uncommon, if not unique first name has “no cool story behind it” and was simply suggested by an aunt. “The way I was brought up, grades were always number one. I always had a lot of help. My parents were always supportive.”
So were friends and neighbors, like Sawyer.
“A lot of people helped me,” Bush says. “I had the right people push me. People were always encouraging me down there.”
Bush would like to pay them back by paying it forward. According to Sawyer, he already has by reaching out to the kids who came behind him at Thurmond.
For instance, there was the time Bush, then a Naval Academy plebe, addressed a letter to the Rebels. They were in a rare losing rut — all of two games. He challenged them to climb out of it. Sawyer was so impressed by Bush’s words, and the thought behind them, he faxed a copy of Bush’s missive to Buddy Green.
Obligations as a Mid, especially one who has his own football schedule, keep Bush from regularly returning to Johnston. But when he can, he does.
“He very seldom gets a chance to come back,” says Sawyer, who nonetheless shared the thrill of Bush’s `homecoming’ appearance on Navy’s visit to South Carolina last season. “(But) the last couple of years, he’s had a week off at Thanksgiving.”
And since South Carolina’s Upper State championship game falls on that holiday weekend, Bush and Sawyer had a deal. You qualify, and I’ll be there. The Rebels missed out in 2010, but not last fall.
“That night (we qualified) I called him and said, “I want you there,'” Sawyer recounts. “Tra’ves came and talked to the boys on Thanksgiving morning.”
Bush showed up in his Navy warm-up gear.
“At the end, he told them, `I want you all to know one thing: I’m proud of you guys,'” Sawyer continued. “You could see some of the guys tear up. They were so proud of him.”
Sawyer describes the kids he coaches as a “bunch of country boys who can run and hit.” In any given year, a couple of them are recruited by college teams, usually at the Division I-AA or II levels. But here was Bush. Not only does he play D-I; he does it for the United States Naval Academy.
In less than a year, preferably as a Surface Warfare Officer, Bush will go from the Peach Capital to seeing the world.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” says Bush, an Economics major. “I never really got out of state (in my youth).”
Wherever his adventure leads, however, Bush won’t be leaving Johnston behind.
“Coming from where I come from, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to see a lot of good athletes that make it out, because of certain circumstances,” Bush said. “There’s definitely not a lot of help or people there to motivate the youth. It’s definitely in my plans to take on a role to help some of the young guys there understand their worth, and not give up on their dreams.”
He’ll stress the same thing to them that he does to his brothers and sister.
“The biggest deal is the academics,” Bush says. “I try to make sure they’re staying in the books and keeping their grades up. That’s the biggest thing that can open doors for you. I wasn’t heavily recruited in South Carolina (but) my grades made it a lot easier for Coach Green to come and recruit me at such at late stage.”
When his military duty is done, Bush wants to be a coach. Green expects he’ll be a “great” one. Regarding Sawyer’s view, well, a recent dose of deja vu suggests the same.
Like so many times before, Sawyer sauntered out to practice. Thurmond had won the weekend before, only their performance was less than stellar. As Sawyer reached the Rebels, they had him seeing red.
Once again, as in the fall of 2008, he summoned a senior to explain why all the blue shirts were missing. At that moment, Tra’ves Bush was probably off practicing in Annapolis. But, as Sawyer was about to discover, his legacy was definitely at play in Johnston.
“Coach,” Sawyer said, audibly beaming as he repeated his player’s words, “that’s just the way we did it when I was a freshman.”
It’s All Downhill From Here: The Gee Gee Greene Story
By Bob Socci
September 29, 2012
Halfway through his 27th consecutive start for the Navy Midshipmen, Gee Gee Greene was put in position to do something different.
Hundreds of other times in his first three seasons, plus two games of a fourth, he’d taken the field somewhere else. As an A-Back, the title Greene wears in the vernacular of Navy’s option offense, that someplace was almost always on a wing or in a slot, between a tackle and wide receiver.
Here, however, approaching the final minute of the first half at Penn State, Greene wandered into the usual domain of a co-called B-Back. He took up residence in the Mids’ backfield, as one of two potential ballcarriers behind quarterback Trey Miller.
From where Greene usually stood, running with the ball generally required that he motion parallel to the line, catch a pitch from the quarterback and take a sharp right or left turn. Then, almost inevitably, Greene would make a quick cut contrary to the flow of the play, before continuing upfield.
In this formation, still new to Navy, his path to the ball would be much shorter and far more direct. Miller himself was aligned several yards from center, with Greene looking over his right shoulder.
The ball was snapped, the quarterback turned and instantly gave it to Greene. Bolting from the blocks like a sprinter, he hit a hole straight ahead.
His steps didn’t chop, they didn’t stutter. They didn’t zig, they didn’t zag.
Greene ran strictly downhill from there. And by the time he disappeared under a swarm of blue-shirted defenders, he was 19 yards downfield.
Commenting on the radio, former Navy fullback Omar Nelson was aglow.
“It seems when he was able to get the ball five yards deep he just exploded through the hole,” Nelson excitedly and approvingly told listeners.
Nelson had seen Greene’s previous 180-plus collegiate carries, on which his average gain of seven yards ranked among the Naval Academy’s all-time top five. And to think, on most of those rushes, Greene likely covered twice as much ground, going horizontal before getting vertical.
Typically, as soon as he turned a corner, Greene was cutting across the grain; guided as often by natural instincts as the nature of the play.”If I see a block being set up, my conscious just tells me to cut,” Greene explains of his nonlinear way of getting from position A to point C. “It’s just natural for me to cut when I see a block developing to the side.”
Not to be misunderstood, what comes naturally has served Greene extremely well.
As a sophomore in 2010, Greene ran six times at Louisiana Tech for a whopping 14.5 yards an attempt. A year later, he amassed a career-high 92 yards on nine carries vs. East Carolina.
But in the offseason to follow, Greene got a message from his coaches. Trust your speed, they told him.
After all, few if any Midshipmen can accelerate more quickly from zero to 20 yards — Greene does it in 2.57 seconds. — or cover 40 yards faster — his personal best is 4.50 seconds.
Weighing their words, Greene worked to sharpen his strides and economize his movements. He sought to maneuver less around defenders, in favor of simply running past them.
He started, in a sense, to retrace his steps.
“In high school, we ran the triple option, but we ran it more out of the shotgun,” Greene says of his role at Richland Northeast in Columbia, S.C. “I was the guy who ran out of the backfield, so I was more like the B-Back. A lot of times, I would hit it just straight up the middle. Or, it was one or two cuts and I would have a straight shot to the end zone.
“I think that style of running, what I used to do in high school, is what I’m trying to get back to now. Since I’ve been here at A-Back, it’s been more of catching a pitch and running east and west, and not running north and south.”
Except that is, on 2nd down and 15, from the Navy 26-yard line, in the second quarter of the season’s second game. Greene’s coaches had him line up in the gun and, given the way Penn State’s Beaver Stadium is oriented, run South to North. Simply get it and go.
In effect, they were putting their trust in his speed.
As for all the steps he’s taken the first 41 games of his Academy career, they seem to follow the same pattern as Greene’s path through the first 21 years of his life.
Described by classmate and teammate John Howell as “compassionate and caring” and “a real smart guy” who “keeps his nose out of trouble,” Greene seems fit to be the subject of a Navy recruiting poster.
To hear Howell and others tell it, you can picture him marching confidently and purposefully toward graduation, beneath Admiral David Farragut’s famous phrase: “Full speed ahead!”
But not so long ago, Greene was running the wrong way. Fortunately, intuition warned him to reverse direction, as if he were cutting back to avoid the over-pursuit of wasted opportunity.
As the fourth of nine children, Alexander Greene is a Junior. So, since everybody referred to his father as Gee, they started calling him Gee Gee. They still do, of course.
He is also the son of Patricia Greene, who worked in and around the Columbia area to support her large family. Her Gee Gee was the younger sibling of one brother and two sisters, and became big brother to two more girls and three more boys.
His family is the reason Greene is in Annapolis. Tragedy within that family nearly led him to an entirely different place.
Eleven years ago, one of his older sisters, who suffered seizures since birth, was beset by another. She was bathing at the time, and drowned. She was only a teenager.
“At the time, when it hit me, I went into a phase where I kind of isolated myself and really was getting into trouble,” Greene recently recounted. “Later on, probably like a year after, I realized that my family was looking up to me, and they really didn’t have anybody (else) to turn to. So I used it to help me in my family life persevere to get to where I am right now.
“I really don’t think about it as much to this day. But when I get into different hardships, I kind of think back to, `you’ve been through this’ and `you’ve been through that,’ so `you can get over this’ and move on.”
During that dark period, Greene was bright enough to hold his own in classrooms. Meanwhile, he was emerging in athletics. He began to understand a correlation between the two. And despite a peripatetic upbringing, started achieving stability through both school and sport.
“Around eighth or ninth grade, when I realized that I was pretty good in football, just through my coaching I realized that I should focus on that more,” Greene says. “I think my ninth-grade year I really transitioned. I got my grades up and really focused on football.
“It was more on my own. I had a lot of coaches who helped me along the way, and encouraged me. But I transferred to a lot of different schools, so I had a lot of different coaches from seventh through ninth grade. Finally, I was stationary from my sophomore year until my senior year, where I was playing for the same school.”
Before landing at Richland Northeast, Greene made the A.C. Flora High varsity as a freshman. He transferred the following fall, but was ruled ineligible. His chance to play for RNE came as a junior, when he joined fellow Cavaliers and future college opponents like Mark Barnes and Gary Gray. Barnes went on to South Carolina, Gray wound up with Notre Dame.
His first season, Greene earned all-region honors. His next, he was named all-state and invited to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, pitting South Carolina’s best against North Carolina’s best. Taking note was Navy’s assistant coach Buddy Green.
According to a scouting profile on the recruiting website, Scout.com, Greene was 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds; apparently too small to hold the interest of his hometown Gamecocks. Staying close to his mother was a priority, and eventually, in-state Wofford College offered that opportunity.
But more important than remaining near Patricia and the rest of their family, Greene wanted to help care for them.
“We were living paycheck to paycheck, and I wanted to help them do better,” he told reporter Andrew Shain of his hometown newspaper The State last September.
The best, if not only way of guaranteeing himself a means of doing that was by considering yet another school, the Naval Academy.
“The main thing for me was having a job when I graduate and financial stability to help out with my family,” Greene says today of his thinking at the time.
It also helped that the Southern charms of Green — the one without the “e” on the end of his name, and one-time, two-sport standout for North Carolina State — proved irresistible.
“Coach Green was so persistent that I couldn’t tell him, `No,'” Gee Gee says, laughing. “Coach Green was a major part of getting me here.”
Getting here was itself a major accomplishment.
Before Greene was handed his diploma, no member of his immediate family had graduated high school. And thus when he reported for I-Day in Annapolis as a direct-entry plebe in 2009, he became the first to attend college.
His guaranteed job awaits. But already Greene is providing for his younger siblings.
“They look up to me a lot,” says Greene, who has a sister now at Coastal Carolina University. “It’s still a goal for me to help my family out, whether that’s being there mentally or helping them out financially. That’s still my goal, and I plan on doing that as soon as I graduate.”
Greene also has a very broad and diverse bunch of brothers who admire him in Annapolis.
“Everyone looks up to him, the younger guys definitely look up to him,” said Howell, a classmate who is generally Greene’s mirror image on the field, as a fellow A-Back. “He’s not afraid to reach out and help a younger guy, or help out one of us.”
Greene touches them mainly by actions, more than exhortations.
“Gee Gee is a leader by example,” said head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “He’s a senior who’s played a ton of games. There’s nobody that’s going to outwork Gee Gee. Younger guys see that here’s someone who’s been in some big-time ballgames but still works hard. That’s the kind of foundation we want our young guys to see. His example has been meaningful to his teammates.”
Still, facing the urgency of this, his final season, the reticent Greene has at times spoken up.
In early August, speaking to Patrick Stevens of The Washington Times, his position coach Danny O’Rourke said that Greene “is starting to realize that he has a voice, and that people listen to him.”
More recently, Howell described how that voice now resonates in the huddle and around the practice fields.
“This year he definitely stepped up the vocal part,” Howell says. “When someone messes up, Gee Gee’s always encouraging them to do better. Even when someone did something well, but could have gone harder, Gee Gee tries to get in their face or get in their ear to say, `Hey, push yourself a little harder.'”
“In the past I really wasn’t a vocal leader like that,” Greene admits.
His tone changed early in preseason training camp. Seniors were asked to speak to the entire team, and Greene carefully considered what he would say. Something he heard and something he read helped him find his voice.
“I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to address to the team and what I wanted us to accomplish for the year,” Greene recounts. “It was a long message. I went to church that previous Sunday and they talked about survival tactics. I just went into depth about each of the tactics and related it to football. A lot of it was based on a mindset.”
Greene also let his teammates in on something not so secret anymore.
“I read a book recently, The Secret, and read about the law of attraction, how you play out what you want to happen in the future in your mind, and it comes to reality,” he said. “I just talked to the team about that, believing and having faith, basically visualizing us having success this year.
“Previously, I did more of reverse psychology. I’d talk negatively, then try to prove myself wrong. Then once I read The Secret, it changed my whole mindset coming into the year.”
It may seem that Greene is messing with a good thing, no longer thinking bad things on the field. Because whatever his outlook the last three seasons, the results realized were better than most could envision.
Never mind that the one exception was his first collegiate rushing attempt. He lost seven yards on it at Ohio State. Greene has gone a long way since, as in more than 1,300 yards, resulting from fewer than 200 carries. Those numbers are impressive enough to merit Greene’s inclusion on this year’s official `watch list’ for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s best running back.
Unaccounted for — at least outside of O’Rourke’s meeting room — are the numerous other times his blocks cleared the way for Howell or someone else to pick up yards and post up points. They’re what make Greene the complete, capital-A back he’s become.
In some respects, he’s a composite of predecessors at the position.
Before ever playing a down for the Midshipmen, Greene admired the abilities of Reggie Campbell. When practice started as a plebe, recent grad Shun White was still around to be a steady influence. And early in his career, stalwarts like Bobby Doyle and Cory Finnerty offered daily demonstrations on the art of blocking.
They also shared a pride, and trust, that still exists among Greene and his contemporaries.
“In the meeting room, blocking is one of the number-one things we always talk about.,” Greene expounds. “Coach (O’Rourke) always says he believes we can run the ball well, so he focuses more on the blocking aspect.
“For me, when I’m on other side and I know I have to block for John or for Bo (Snelson) or anybody else, I know my block is going to be key. Most of the time, a block from the A-Back is the key to springing a big play. So I think there is a lot of pressure on us to make the (blocks), but we trust each other and that makes it a lot easier.”
“If Gee Gee gets the call, I’m going to make sure he has a clean running lane to go score a touchdown,” says Howell. “He might be the one scoring, but I feel just as responsible as he does. I’m sure he feels the same way for me.”
“It’s a good feeling on both ends,” Greene adds. “Most of the time when you’re making that key block for the person running the ball, you don’t get all the glory, but he knows. When he scores a touchdown, he’s the first person who comes over to celebrate with you after a touchdown.
“It’s kind of like being an unsung hero in the offense. Then when you’re on the other end, if I score a touchdown and I know the play was sprung by a block from John or Bo, I go straight to them, thanking them for making the block.”
There’s a clear understanding of the unselfishness inherent in his position; one Greene might just convey in a future role.
Foretelling his post-Academy career, Greene sees himself becoming a Surface Warfare Officer. Often he envisions being a federal agent another five years after that. But more and more, he pictures himself coaching football.
It’s no secret; the game’s been good to Gee Gee Greene. Without it, he likely would have kept running laterally long ago, instead of moving forward in life. By staying in the game, he could help others do the same.
“Probably one of the main reasons is being able to reach out and help kids,” Greene says. “And basically develop them to accomplish what they want to.”
If that’s the direction he chooses, the kids Greene coaches would do well to follow in his footsteps.
Considering where he’s been, where Greene’s headed is all downhill from here.