TAMPA — A little secret on the most celebrated gallop of Greg Windham’s football life, the one both mesmerizing and metaphorical, the one that rallied a team and perhaps nudged a program into prominence.
It was ad libbed.
Trailing Wharton by four early in the fourth quarter, Windham and his King teammates found themselves pinned inside their 5. Trying to create mere breathing room, offensive coordinator Hayward Bryant called for Windham to hand off to the fullback out of the veer formation.
Noticing Wharton’s defenders gravitating to the hole, Windham pulled the ball and dashed to his right.
“I saw nothing but green grass and the end zone,” he said.
Ninety-seven yards later, the Lions’ brawny senior catalyst had put his team ahead for good and, perhaps just as significantly, etched the definitive symbol of his prep career.
In two-plus seasons, the kid teammates call “G-Whiz” has embraced a program once pinned deep in the nether regions of mediocrity and helped carry it to daylight.
“I came to this school because it was nothing,” said Windham, who leads the Lions (1-0) against nearby rival Tampa Bay Tech tonight. “I wanted to make a name for this school and just refresh the program.”
School choice never seemed so radical.
In an era of unabashed free agency, Windham could have gone anywhere. For a time, it seemed like he’d go everywhere. After his freshman season at Middleton, he moved to Chamberlain, but stayed only a few months. He even tried futilely to get into Tampa Bay Tech.
But he settled on the school for which he was geographically zoned — and perhaps destined.
“ ‘I mean, we can go to Armwood, we can go to Plant,’ ” Bryant, a longtime mentor to Windham, recalls telling his pupil after his freshman year. “ ‘But the thing about it is, you want to do something that ain’t been done before, so why don’t you go help another program prosper?’ ”
Today, King stands on the cusp of prosperity, thanks in large part to its third-year starting quarterback. In the three years before Windham’s arrival, King totaled nine victories and three head coaches, and had sustained consecutive losses to TBT by a combined score of 61-7.
Since the start of the 2009 season, the Lions are 12-8 on the field (two blowout wins were negated last season because of an ineligible player), including a 9-7 victory against the Titans last year.
Among the constants during that stretch: coach Alvin Davis, two-way speedster Chris Murray and Gregory Keith Windham, who is nearing the 3,000 mark in career passing yardage at King.
“When I came here, the whole team was almost brand new,” said Windham, whose frame, lively arm and headiness has attracted mid-major Division I-A attention.
“And we wanted to build that chemistry for the team. Coach Davis was new and we just wanted to start something. Now it’s grown and we’ve progressed over the years. This year, I hope we make it to the playoffs and beyond.”
The middle child of five kids, Windham’s size — 6-foot-1 1/2, 215 pounds — screams linebacker. Hence the reason many were astounded by the speed he brandished on that long run.
Want more uncommon knowledge? His resilience is off the charts. As a freshman at Middleton, Windham snapped his tibia and fibula when a Freedom defensive lineman rolled onto the back of his left leg.
A year later, the chin snap on a TBT player’s helmet gashed Windham’s right elbow. The scar from those 22 stitches remains.
“It happened in the first quarter,” Bryant said. “God knows how he finished the game.”
While that fleetness and durability endeared Windham to college coaches, the velocity, 3.0 GPA and lofty football IQ attracted them in the first place. He has received offers from Western Kentucky, Ohio University, Tennessee State and Troy.
At least three of those programs have been mired in their share of mediocrity and could use a recruit bent on being a difference maker. Sound familiar?
“The senior class this year, we want to leave with a bang,” Windham said. “We want to leave a statement and do something King has never done before.”