Time to 'Finish the job'

Ohio fifth-year senior quarterback Greg Windham warms up prior to practice inside Peden Stadium during fall camp. Windham will make his first career start on Saturday when the Bobcats’ open the 2016 season against Texas State.

Greg Windham Jr., the fifth-year senior starting quarterback for the Ohio University football team, is his father’s namesake.

He accepts, and wants to live up to the responsibility of that name. It’s not a burden.

“The one thing my dad told me was to ‘Finish the job.’ Before I left home that last time, and he was in the hospital, he told me ‘Just finish the job. Don’t ever give up,’’ Windham said. “I told him ‘I got you, Dad.’

“That stuck with me,” he continued. “I have to do this…for my father, for my family, for myself.

“I can’t give up. A lot of people, I feel, would have done that in that situation. With their best friend, their father, passing away…that’s a tough deal,” Windham said. “But I’m still here.”

Windham’s father, Greg Windham Sr., died on April 2, 2014. It remains the darkest day of his son’s life, a life that has faced one hurdle after another in recent years.

* * *

Greg Windham Jr. signed with Ohio as a vaunted high school recruit. He was graded at three stars by the major scouting services, and came from Florida’s King High School in Tampa. Both facts caught the eye of Ohio fans, who were hungry for talent at the quarterback position and the extra cache that comes with players from Florida — as rich a prep school talent hotbed as you can find.

Windham’s career at Ohio played out as expected early on. He took a redshirt season as a true freshman in 2012, as is standard operating procedure for most high school recruits during Frank Solich’s tenure with the Bobcats.

And then it nearly came off the rails in 2013. Two days before the season opener, Windham — the promising redshirt freshman quarterback — was arrested at the team’s facilities at Peden Stadium.

Whether the charge — a fourth-degree felony in drug trafficking — or the circumstances of the arrest itself were warranted, it was clear by the time that Windham entered a plea of abeyance in October of that year that even the county prosecutor had doubts.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn told The Messenger at the time of the plea arrangement that Windham was just “running an errand” for his roommate. He did it once. Blackburn added that he hoped the arrest would be a “minor blip” in Windham’s life.

With a plea of abeyance, Windham completed a diversion course, paid a fine and court costs. He completed his requirements. His charge was dropped. It was as if it had never happened.

But it did. Windham was suspended from the Ohio football team for the entirety of the 2013 season.

Windham’s father, and mother (Stephanie Young), stuck by him. He paid his penance. He got through it.

“They stayed positive. They didn’t get mad and yell at me. They were on my side,” Windham said. “When the bad things are happening, they keep me in a positive spirit. We’re always going to get through it. That’s how it always was.”

* * *

Windham got through it. He was welcomed back to the football roster the following spring, in 2014.

And then Greg Windham Sr. passed away, and his son was struggling to stay on his path.

“I was watching film, there in the film room, and my mom called. She was just crying,” Windham remembered.

“That was my best friend. He could calm me down about anything. He was that guy, that backbone. And now he was gone,” he added. “It was bad.”

Scott Isphording, Ohio’s quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator, has talked positively for more than a year about Windham’s growth as a quarterback. He was privy to his lowest point, as well.

“Without a doubt, Greg has matured, and improved as football player, as much as any player I’ve ever coached,” Isphording said earlier this month. “This guy…he’s had some difficulties in his life. Losing his father was a real tough deal for him. He’s tried to use that to help motivate himself on and off the field.”

Windham had lost his best friend, his father and his biggest backer. On the football field, in 2014, Windham barely played for the Bobcats. He was the third string option and played in just a couple of mop-up duty situations.

The following spring, in April of 2015, Windham’s sister — Ebony Young — passed away. In a span of about 20 months, Windham had been arrested, and had his father and then his sister die.

All along, he was trying to help his mother and act as a remote mentor to his younger brother Garrett. Windham’s home neighborhood wasn’t idyllic.

“We live in a rough community. A lot of craziness going on, a lot of violence,” Windham explained. “I’m all the way up here (in Ohio). They’re down there (in Florida).

“I had to take responsibilities. I had to help my mom out, my brother out,” he said. “I’m trying to make my brother (Garrett) stay focused, and I was trying to stay focused on myself. There was a lot on my plate.”

* * *

Again, Windham got through it. He progressed as a quarterback. His brother graduated from high school, and will enroll in a junior college in January.

With the Bobcats, Windham — again listed as the third string quarterback — was forced into action several times during the 2015 season. He had moments — big plays — in Ohio’s win at Northern Illinois and again in the 2015 Camellia Bowl.

He didn’t do it alone. Windham credited close friend and former teammate Daz Patterson (“That’s my brother, man”), Isphording and Solich as key confidants during his college years. There were many others.

And Windham embraced his faith. He became involved in Athletes in Action — a Christian group for college student athletes — and now credits God for everything in his life.

“God is good. He’s done brought me out of everything,” he said. “I’ve been at my highs, and I’ve been at my lows. He’s built me back up.”

Solich named Windham as Ohio’s 2016 starter late last week. It was a reflection of Windham’s play, and a nod to the person he is today. Windham performed better than any other quarterback on the roster for the majority of spring camp, and for the entirely of fall camp.

And in Windham, Solich believes Ohio has a quarterback that his team will rally around. Windham has seen his share of trouble and tough breaks. And he’s emerged a better person for it.

“Quarterback demands that you supply leadership. Greg is really well liked on this football team. I think guys see him as a leader,” Solich said. “I don’t have any question about his ability to be a leader for us.”

* * *

Ohio opens the 2016 season on Sept. 3 against Texas State inside Peden Stadium. Windham will make his first collegiate start.

You might wonder how a player with 53 career passing attempts will handle the pressure of having a team depend on him.

Pressure? Pressure is trying to figure out how to continue when your life has been shattered as you lose those closest to you. Pressure is trying to figure out just the right thing to say to a brother — 1,000 miles away — to keep him from making a mistake he’ll regret.

Playing quarterback? That’s a privilege, a bonus, a boon.

“This is football. This is what I love to do,” Windham said. “You can’t control what you can’t control. All we can do is control what we can.

“I’ve been through so much in my life. What I can control is to always find a way to be even-keeled.”

In a lot of ways, Windham has already ‘finished the job.’ He’s earned his shot. He’s improved himself as a player and a person.

Greg Windham Jr. is the son of a landscaper. He’s learned that just because the work is hard, that doesn’t mean you don’t finish it.

“We all have a purpose on this planet. I feel like my purpose is to encourage the youth, and try to show them how to do it in the right way,” Windham said.

“God’s put me here for a reason. The moment is now,” he added. “To help this team win the MAC Championship, that’s my purpose here at OU.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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