- Defensively Minded Hinesville -
There are many people in Hinesville who will read this column. And many of them are military folks either being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, are in Iraq or Afghanistan or are returning from Iraq or Afghanistan - all in defense of our country. They defend, by taking the battle to the "subversive’s" backyard rather than allowing "them" to do battle in ours.
The population of neighboring Hinesville then pretty much pulsates to politics and policy. In this sense, it is one of the top centers of "defense" in the land.
But not all Hinesville defenders hail from Fort Stewart. Last night, after the Patriot’s embarrassing loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, I had an opportunity to interview Hinesville native and starting defensive linebacker for the New England Patriots, Gary Guyton.
A little background.
I had been in "N’awlins" scouting locations for a new movie with my National Lampoon film partner Alan Donnes - a "who dat" faithful and native. Alan is in tight with Saint’s management and scored a press pass for me to cover the biggest game of the year (so far) from sky box seats amongst a bastion of other writers.
Of course the writers sitting next to me on either side were covering the game for ESPN sports, USA Today, the NFL network, AP News and the lot. My credentials read; "Bryan County News." Sure I got some looks, but hey, I can write better than most of those guys anyway, so who dat cares? Hey, I drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was "gone." Anyway.
I did have to find an "angle" though as they say in the business. In the back of my mind, I remembered that one of the "feel good" stories in the last two years dealing with the New England Patriots was that they signed a player who no other team wanted - an undrafted free agent linebacker. A player who tested faster and had more agility that any other linebacker at the 2008 NFL combines. Two years later, he’s the starting defensive outside linebacker playing for arguable the best defensive mind to ever have coached the game - the lovable and cuddly, Bill Belichick.
The player is Hinesville’s own Gary Guyton. Bradwell Institute, Class of ‘03.
According to the Patriot program guide, "Gary Guyton, Jr. was born the son of Janice and Gary Guyton on November 14, 1985. Attended Bradwell Institute (Hinesville, Ga.) where he was a three-year letterman. Named to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Top 50 in Georgia. Compiled 56 tackles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, five passes defensed and a blocked kick as a senior. Tallied a career-high 59 tackles as a junior. Majored in management at Georgia Tech."
My editor, Jeff Whitten, remembers writing about Guyton just about this time and covering his career at Bradwell Institute. Jeff remembered that Gary Guyton was convinced; even as a high schooler, that he would without a doubt, play in the NFL.
Well, walking into the Patriot’s locker-room right after last night’s game was like walking into a morgue of the living dead. You could literally hear a pin drop. These guys are absolutely massive, walking around in their "all together," with a "No Country For Old Men" scowl.
I don’t know Gary Guyton. I’ve never met Gary Guyton. And I’m sure that no one informed Gary Guyton that some guy from the "local paper" was about to stick a tape recorder in his face and talk about old home week after a big loss on national television.
Was I taking my life in my own hands?
At first, Gary was surprised that anyone in the media would even approach him personally. He’s not on the "official" spokesman list handed out by Patriot nation publicists. Right next to his dressing locker however, was a bevy of TV camera’s and lights concentrating on the Patriot who actually is the "official" defensive mouthpiece, Vince Wilfork. It’s a peck and peck protocol.
Understandably, Guyton was not looking to "talk" to anyone. He didn’t say anything at first until I mentioned my paper, Bryan County News and Hinesville. A smile slowly appeared on his face. (Thank you, Lord.)
I had done my homework. Two week ago, Gary had his 24th birthday and is still a "kid," albeit in a man’s body. Drafted in ‘08, he’s in his sophomore year on a team with an immensely complicated defensive system. He was signed the same year that the Patriot’s took linebacker Jerod Mayo (NFL ‘08 defensive rookie of the year) as their # 1 choice. Guyton, as I mentioned, was undrafted in ‘08, also a rookie.
When Mayo went down earlier in the season, after Guyton was blocked into the back of his legs, Gary Guyton was literally thrust into Mayo’s "Captain" slot which required him to call all of Belichick’s maniacally complicated defensive keys and reads. That’s a long way from Hinesville and Georgia Tech in such a short time.
Guyton, despite his formidable size, is modest, soft-spoken and very realistic as to who he is, where he came from and where he expects to be in the future. He told me, "It was coming from where I came from to where I am now that was a long road and I still have a long way to go. It’s been a long journey. It’s still going to be a long journey. But right now I’m still learning. Like you said I’m only in my sophomore year here. I have a long way to go. I have a lot more football to learn. It’s been progressive - it’s been progressive."
The NFL stands for "Not For Long" if you fail to keep up and progress, especially on a team noted for defensive genius.
"Do you still keep in touch with your high school coach at Bradwell Institute in Hinesville?"
"Yeah. He’s still there, coach Jim Walsh. Whenever I come home, I drop by the school to see him and to say hello."
Then I got into a subject about Hinesville itself and the men and women who are stationed at Fort Stewart and are involved in a complicated defense of their own.
Guyton got very animated and you could tell what he was about to say at least temporarily took the loss to the Saints out of his head. "I appreciate those guys. I’m working hard. I’m working hard and it’s not just me. I’m playing for everybody that’s down there. I’m representing ‘them’ the way they are representing the United States. I wear it on my sleeve and I wear it hard."
I believed him and wished him luck as a chosen disciple of one of the best defensive minds that ever coached. In my opinion, Guyton has the three tools of talent going for him: Equal parts of Passion - Dexterity - Instinct.
Gary will complete his journey.
I came away from Guyton’s interview thinking that the future of the Patriots defense is (and will be) in good hands - the same for the future defense of this country. And much of that defensive mindset comes from a small community just over the backyard fence of Bryan County - Hinesville, Georgia.
Columnist at Large
Bryan County News