In his last year at Navy, Gee Gee Greene is ready to lead

Even though he's not a captain, senior slotback is 'next in line' for leadership

(US Presswire )
August 30, 2012|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

John Howell was at the Naval Academy for several months before he ever heard Gee Gee Greene utter more than a few words. In the weight room at Ricketts Hall, on the practice fields and even when the football team was eating its meals, Greene said little to his fellow freshman or anyone else.

"I remember when we came over for Plebe Summer [before freshman year], we sat down to get food. Gee Gee would just sit there and keep to himself, or he would just sit with Tra'ves [Bush]," Howell, now a senior, said of Greene. "It was like, 'OK, cool, see you later Gee Gee.'"

Greene didn't have to say much his first three years at Navy as demonstrative teammates such as quarterback Ricky Dobbs and defensive end Jabaree Tuani took more of the leadership role for the Midshipmen.

But Howell and others, including Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, noticed a change in Greene last spring. He would pull young players aside to give them encouragement or teach them some of the nuances of the reads in Navy's triple-option offense. He would also get in their facemask to get his point across.

This summer, as the Midshipmen prepared for Saturday's 2012 opener against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, Greene told sophomore guard Jake Zuzek that he had to pay better attention to the snap count. Zuzek snapped at Greene, who went right back at the promising lineman and told him to show some respect.

"In the past I probably wouldn't have said anything to him, but being my senior year, I've played a lot and I've seen us lose games with false starts or other little things," Greene said a couple of days later. "Coach [Niumatalolo] says it's a game of inches. I feel like it was my job to set the standard and put him in his place, telling him, 'We need you and you can't be doing that.'"

Navy has needed Greene — right from the start. In his first game at the academy, Greene returned kickoffs against highly ranked Ohio State on the road, starting a string of 40 straight games that has yet to end.

Given the revolving nature of a position that is typically the deepest on Navy's roster, Greene's streak of 26 straight starts is a testament to both his talent and his toughness. He has put up remarkable numbers for a player who hasn't been given that many touches.

Greene has never gained more than 100 yards rushing in a game — he had a career-high 92 against East Carolina last year — and has never had more than nine attempts in a game. But he has gained 7 yards per carry, the fifth-best in school history.

"I would always like more touches. I'm always wanting the ball, but just the way our offense is designed, you have to know you're not going to get the ball every time," said Greene, who has also proved to be an effective receiver.

Greene's selflessness is typical of Navy slotbacks in the triple option, and his abilities have not gone unappreciated. He is on the early season list for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.

"Gee Gee has been a great football player for us," Niumatalolo said. "He's done everything we've asked of him — block, catch the ball, run with the ball. He's like a coach on the field, helping the younger guys. He's probably as good an A-back as we've had here."

Said slotbacks coach Danny O'Rourke: "The thing that makes him really good is that he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. He's not necessarily the best at everything, [but] he doesn't have anything where he's deficient. … He's good at a lot of different things."

O'Rourke said Greene is the best all-around slotback Navy has had since Reggie Campbell in terms of running and catching. O'Rourke said Greene's versatility has allowed offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper to use Greene as a decoy to set up others for big plays.

"I think he wants the ball like any competitor, but there were times last year where we were trying to set up a route, and we said, 'You're not going to be the pass-catcher, but you're going to be the guy selling the run fake,'" O'Rourke said.

The one thing that Greene has also been good at — though you'd hardly notice because of his demeanor — has been leadership.

It goes back to the setting in which he was raised, and how he was forced to play a role that typically isn't thrust on a 10-year-old. Growing up as the fourth oldest of eight children in a single-parent home in Columbia, S.C., Greene watched as his only older male sibling was incarcerated.

"I was sort of the man of the house," Greene recalled.

By the time Greene reached Richland Northeast High for his sophomore year, longtime coach Jay Frye said his former star was "mature beyond his years" and that Greene set a good example for both the younger and older players in the classroom as well as on the field.

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