CLEARWATER — Jeremiah George is edging closer to his dream of hearing his name called during the NFL draft.
The former Clearwater High School football standout spent the last four years honing his skills on the gridiron at Iowa State University, where he led the team in tackles and won All-Big 12 honors in 2013.
From humble beginnings in Clearwater, George, 22, now has moved to the precipice of what could be the biggest moment of his life: getting drafted by an NFL team next week.
On April 11, George and 26 other players worked out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and George said he was one of several players asked to stay for an interview with general manager Jason Licht and linebacker coach Hardy Nickerson.
"It'd be great to come back home," George said, hopeful he would get a chance to play for a Florida team. "I think there will be a lot of tears shed on draft day."
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George's draft stock has risen and fallen over time.
He currently has a 5.14 grade on the NFL Draft Tracker, which means he has a better than average chance to make a team's roster.
In addition to his play during college, he has seized opportunities to showcase his skills since the season ended. There was the NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl, essentially a college player all-star game, in January. Then the NFL combine in February. He had a pro day at Iowa State in March and has been working out for teams since then.
George can play linebacker or on special teams, has been compared to former Buccaneer and Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, and is projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
"Intense, vocal team leader. Good work ethic," states an NFL.com analysis. "Is committed to the game and competes hard. Has the makeup of a special-teams terror."
Even if George isn't drafted, he could be picked up as an undrafted free agent, with the hope of making a team's roster after training camp.
"It's really been a roller coaster ride," George said.
He hopes to play the game he has grown up to love — and getting an NFL paycheck is appealing, too, because it would enable him to be comfortable financially and take care of his family.
A year from now, he hopes to not only be finished with his first professional year in the NFL, but be back in Ames, Iowa, completing the 13 credit hours he needs to get his degree in communications.
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A smile filled George's face as he walked the hallways of Clearwater High recently.
It was a major transition going from being the big man on campus at Clearwater High, where he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, to trying to find his way around at Iowa State. He came back to say hi to former Clearwater High teachers, coaches and others who helped inspire, challenge and prepare him for college and life.
There is Assistant Principal Leslie Hopkins, who convinced George to be one of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence his junior year, a group that showcases positive role models and brings in speakers to offer examples of success.
The speakers opened the eyes of disadvantaged students to another world, George said. He tries to speak to the group when he is in town.
Suzy Breen, his algebra teacher freshman year, couldn't hold her excitement when she spotted George walking down the hall. They hugged, with George towering above her. Math was not easy for George, but he stuck with it and became one of her best students.
"To see him excel … I was so proud," she said.
And while he was visiting Clearwater High, he of course had to visit the football field.
When he was younger, he played for the Clearwater Jr. Tornadoes on that field. Saturdays were game days, and his mother, Shannon Sebek, would make sure the whole family was part of it. When he was older, the family gathered at the field on Friday nights to watch him play for the Tornadoes.
Sebek attended most of George's games during high school, and she and George's father, Ike George, attended almost all of the Iowa State games his senior year. Sebek, a nurse, planned the trips months in advance, switching shifts with coworkers and booking inexpensive flights through Allegiant.
"I just feel that if you could be there, you should be there," she said. "(It's) just something you don't want to miss, especially his senior year."
Sebek predicts that NFL draft day will be "a very anxious kind of day."
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When school was out at Iowa State, George would come to Clearwater High and work out.
When he is in town now, after hitting the gym, he drives around Clearwater Beach.
He thinks about the possibility of buying a house and living there.
No matter the outcome of the draft, he considers Clearwater home.
Jared Leone can be reached at [email protected] or @jared_leone on Twitter.