TIGERVILLE — Flying under the radar is a good thing for armed forces on a mission. It’s not so good for a football player aspiring to a pro career.
Richland Northeast High school graduate Gee Gee Greene is hopeful he can become a blip on the NFL’s radar. The former U.S. Naval Academy running back got a final chance to impress pro scouts under game conditions on Saturday at the inaugural South Carolina College All-Star Bowl at North Greenville University.
Greene is used to battling long odds. The fourth of nine children, he said his best opportunity to get a college education was by earning a scholarship. He picked Navy, which isn’t a common route to the NFL, and some consider him undersized at 5’8”, 185 pounds.
Like many youngsters, Greene said he grew up dreaming of getting a chance to play pro football. “I knew the probability kind of got slimmed down when I chose to come to the Naval Academy, but I still think it’s a possibility if I show them what I can do.”
Navy graduates are required to fulfill a commitment in the service. Greene said he hopes to impress an NFL team enough to offer him a free-agent contract so he can resume his football career when his 18 months in the service are over.
His service assignment in the Navy will be surface warfare.
The all-star game was limited to players who were either South Carolina natives or who played for a state college football team.
Former Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche, who served as commissioner of the game, said the game provides the opportunity a player needs to get a pro team’s attention.
“I did not get drafted when I came out of Furman,” Wyche said. “I played a year of minor league ball, went back to graduate school and thanks to a good break I got a tryout to play. Had this game been available to me at that time I would have had one more chance to show whether I belonged in an NFL camp.”
Scouts from a dozen or so NFL teams were expected to observe games and practices, and video will be made available to all NFL, Canadian Football League and Arena Football League teams.
“It’s great exposure,” Wyche said. “There will be one or two or three or four – who knows – who are going to be in the NFL who might not have been if not for this game.”
Greene’s teammates included former RNE teammates Josh Young, who played receiver at Mars Hill, and Leonard Paulk, who played cornerback at East Carolina.
Greene had to prove to scouts his skills extend beyond Navy’s triple-option offense.
“Showing them I can go from the triple option to a tradition pro-style offense is probably the biggest thing,” he said.
Greene is in the record books at Navy by becoming the first Midshipman to return a kickoff for a touchdown in a bowl game with a 95-yard runback in the 2012 Fight Hunger Bowl.
He averaged 7.3 yards per carry as a senior – the second-best season mark in Navy history for a season – and finished fifth on the career charts at 7.1 yards per attempt.
Greene ranks third on Navy’s career all-purpose yards list with 3,757 yards. He rushed for 2,123 yards, caught 48 passes for 764 yards and returned 42 kickoffs for 870 yards. He scored 18 career touchdowns and started the final 38 games of his career.
Greene last played football in his home state in 2011. He rushed for 59 yards on six carries as Navy made South Carolina sweat out a 24-21 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Navy assistant Buddy Green has recruiting connections in the South.
“Coach Green came down to spring practice after my junior year,” Greene said. “He followed me through my junior and senior year. Until he offered, I was planning to go to Wofford because it was close to home. I got an offer to go to the Academy, and I changed my mind.”
Greene said getting a college education via scholarship was a big help for his mom, Patricia.
“Being in a big family, it was kind of hard for my mom to be on top of everything,” he said. “I’m just thankful my friends and I were into making good grades, and I was able to put myself into the position I’m in now.
Greene said the academic discipline he developed at Richland Northeast helped him endure the rigorous challenges at the Naval Academy. “Doing things on my own and kind of being the man of my house growing up I think helped me a lot at the Academy with the structure here.”
Greene had to put that discipline into action this past week, spending Sunday, Monday and Tuesday getting a head-start on his academic work in order to be able to concentrate on football the latter part of the week and not fall behind in his studies.
Going from a service academy to the NFL isn’t just a pipe dream. Navy graduates Roger Staubach and Napoleon McCallum had solid pro careers.
“Coming in, a lot of people may think you’re not going to get an opportunity to play professionally, but playing (FBS) football and competing against those guys gives you the confidence that you can play with them.”
Once Greene’s naval career or pro football days are over, he said he’d like to work for the FBI.
“I’m really into the law, forensics and special task force things,” Greene said. “I’m very interested in that.”