NICK TOMECEK | Daily News
NICEVILLE -- David Gauch summed Kevin Greene's presence
for the Niceville football program best. "You don't get the
opportunity to be coached by a Hall of Famer too often,"
the senior said while sitting at the signing table Wednesday inside
the school cafeteria.
Also not happening often is having a NFL Hall of Famer as your
dad as well as your high school coach. So, consider Gavin Greene
He joined four of his classmates -- Gauch (DePauw University,
football), Kyree Taylor (Brenau University, soccer), Elijah Schneidewind
(University of West Florida, cross country) and Claudia
Howes (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, cross country and track
and field) -- for another reason to be thankful, committing
to continue their chose sports at the collegiate level.
Gavin Greene will be a preferred walk-on at the
University of Southern Miss, a Division I program that must have
liked what the Niceville defensive end offered. Being the son
of a legendary pro linebacker might have helped. "I'm proud
of my son whether he plays football or not," said Kevin Greene,
an assistant this past season for Niceville's football program.
"I'm happy for the amazing heart he has and being a believer
in Christ. I was just out there playing with my son. Any dad would
want that. Coach (John) Hicks blessed me with the opportunity
to play with my son."
Hicks described the joy of watching the Greene pair each day at
practice -- "they were out there having the time of their
lives" -- and got a lot out of him on game nights, too. Greene
made 118 tackles, 19 for a loss, to go with five sacks. "Outright,
this was my favorite year," said Gavin, whose family moved
from Green Bay, Wisc., to Niceville his sophomore year. "It
was an amazing experience." Greene always had confidence
he'd be a college player.
Gauch, a linebacker, wasn't so sure. Injuries derailed
his entire junior season. His senior year, though, included 81
tackles, 11 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks. "After last year,"
said Gauch, who is going to the Division III school with academic
grants covering most of the costs, "I didn't think I'd be
able to keep playing. After looking over game film from this last
season, I decided I really wanted to do it. Not many get the chance."
That was a common theme Wednesday, when Taylor committed to Brenau,
in Gainesville, Ga., after another successful year at striker
for the Eagles' state runner-up girls soccer program. "I
had a big connection with the coaches," she said, noting
she's receiving academic grants in addition to the athletic one.
"Gainesville reminded me of Niceville. I wanted to go some
place smaller. "Last year, I went through this stint where
I was hesitant (about if I could play in college). I was scared
to grow up, basically."
As for the two running
stars, both stressed academic influences for their choices.
Schneidewind aims for the Physical Therapy career and a seven-year
doctorate program through West Florida and University of South
Florida. The running is just a continued love, expressed by coach
Jamie LaFollette. "Elijah is the type of athlete who when
I say, 'Today we're going to do 10 miles,' he says, 'OK.' If I
say we're going to do a tempo run, he says OK. It's always yes
and yes sir." That is part of the reason why he can handle
the rigors of college athletics and high academic dreams. "I
pushed myself so much in high school with clubs and taking classes
at Northwest Florida State," he said.
Then there is Howes, who
has already lived one of the most interesting lives possible for
a teenager. She lived in Italy for more than half a decade, traveled
Europe and moved to the Emerald Coast halfway through high school.
"It wasn't a whole lot different because I went to an American
school," she said. "It is a change going to malls and
stores and asking for things in English instead of a different
Now she's headed to Troy, N.Y. for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
-- declining offers from George Washington and other high-ranking
academic colleges -- for the Biophysics program. Like Schneidewind,
she'll keep running. "I liked that the runners there are
around the same times as me," she said. "That will push
me to keep getting faster."