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FSU’s Rashad Greene making Albany, Westover proud with trip to title game

Greene is Florida State’s leading receiver

Florida State receiver and Albany native Rashad Greene reacts after a touchdown reception earlier this season against Pittsburgh. Greene, who left Westover after his sophomore year for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Seminoles will play for a national championship Monday against Auburn. (Reuters)

Florida State receiver and Albany native Rashad Greene reacts after a touchdown reception earlier this season against Pittsburgh. Greene, who left Westover after his sophomore year for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Seminoles will play for a national championship Monday against Auburn. (Reuters)

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Florida State receivers Kenny Shaw (81) and Kelvin Benjamin (1) and quarterback Jameis Winston (5) celebrate alongside former Westover star Rashad Greene, far right, after a win this season against Duke. Greene, a junior, leads the Seminoles in receiving with 67 catches for 981 yards and nine touchdowns. (Reuters)

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Albany native Rashad Greene has led Florida State in receiving for the last three years and is seventh in FSU history with 25 career TD catches. (Reuters)

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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, left, poses with Mickey Mouse, Rashad Greene (second from right) and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner at a press conference last week for the BCS National Championship. (Reuters)

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Rashad Greene, center, sits with FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher and defensive back Lamarcus Jennings at a press conference last week for the BCS National Championship. (Reuters)

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Former Westover star Rashad Greene celebrates after one of his nine touchdown catches this season. (Reuters)

Before a single snap is played of Monday’s BCS National Championship game, Albany’s Cassandra Greene may just shed a tear.

Make that, a lot of tears.

Forgive the mother of junior Florida State star receiver Rashad Greene. It’s a moment she’s waited a lifetime for.

“I may just cry. Matter fact, I probably will,” Cassandra told The Herald on Friday afternoon, just hours before she was to depart for Jacksonville, Fla., with six members of the Greene family for Pasadena, Calif., where Rashad’s No. 1 Seminoles (13-0) will take on No. 2 Auburn (12-1) in the final BCS title game before college football moves to a four-team playoff next season.

“That moment, seeing him run out there before he ever even starts playing, it’s just going to be so overwhelming,” Cassandra continued. “I was talking to the parents of his roommate (Friday) afternoon, (junior offensive lineman) Bobby Hart, and we were all getting so excited and getting butterflies just talking about that moment when we see our boys come out. We will be proud parents, but we will probably all be crying.”

Cassandra won’t be sobbing because her son has had to overcome some kind of great adversity or setback just to play football, and seeing him introduced will mark the defining moment in a great story of perseverance.

It’s really quite the opposite.

Monday night in Pasadena — on college football’s grandest stage, and as the leading receiver of the best team in the land — is a moment Rashad has seemingly been destined for.

Honest.

“He’s carried himself like that since he was little. Very athletic, very good student — just mature beyond his years. He’s always been very special,” Cassandra says without a hint of boasting, only immense pride in her voice. “Does it surprise me he’s made it this far? No, not at all. As a mother, you’re always hopeful your kids accomplish their dreams. And I’m just very proud and excited to be a part of it.”

For Rashad, the days he played pickup games with his brothers and friends in their Northwest Albany neighborhood, or spent the summers learning X’s and O’s at his grandmother Dorthy James’ house in Shellman don’t feel that long ago. And he still vividly remembers those countless evenings of AAU ball with the Albany Hurricanes or how he led Merry Middle School to three straight undefeated seasons.

But he knows what awaits the Seminoles on Monday night will be a whole other world.

And he’s ready for it. Much more so than most.

“We feel like we’ve prepared for this moment all year,” Rashad said this week. “It’s just a dream come true right now.”

‘He is a highlight reel’

Two years ago, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher spent more than an hour at his computer typing out answers to questions from The Albany Herald for a story it was working on.

And every one of those answers was about Rashad.

Among Fisher’s thoughts on his then-rising sophomore was that — while it was still very early to make a definitive call on just how good Rashad would be — Fisher was willing to bet that the Albany native and former Westover High School star would end up being “one of the best I’ve ever coached.”

Two seasons later, there’s no denying he’s become just that.

“He is a highlight reel. You give him the ball, he might take it to the house,” Florida State Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston said of Greene, who leads FSU’s outstanding corps of wideouts with 67 catches for 981 yards and nine touchdowns. “Rashad, he’s just a great a leader.”

That leadership quality in Rashad is something Fisher has never had to worry about.

“He’s very mature and a great leader, too — affects the other guys on his team very well. He gets it. I can look at him some times without even saying a word and he’ll go, ‘Got it,’ and take care of it,” Fisher said. “He has high-end speed, can run routes, is very intelligent, plays with toughness for a smaller guy. He’s one of those guys — very smart, intellectual, tough young man.

“Rashad’s role (in the offense) is key to our success.”

This is the third straight year Rashad has led Florida State in receiving, and it’s not by accident. The 6-foot, 180-pound wideout who Fisher often refers to as “sneaky good” has had the golden touch since the moment he landed in Tallahassee, Fla.

In 2011, as a true freshman at FSU out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School — where Rashad played his final two years after moving from Albany to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., following his sophomore season at Westover — he turned his first career catch as a Seminole into a touchdown.

And his second. And his third.

“The first three times he ever touched the ball, he scored touchdowns,” Fisher marveled.

Those might be hard numbers to live up to for most, but not Rashad. With 25 career touchdowns in three years, good for seventh all-time in school history, Greene is among the most productive players the program has ever had. Despite missing six games his freshman season due to injury, Rashad has touched the ball only 196 times in three years between offense and special teams. That’s an average of one touchdown every 7.8 times he handles the rock.

“When you put the ball in this man’s hands,” Fisher began, “he is more likely to make somebody miss and take it to the house at any time.”

If Rashad can haul in a minimum of 19 yards in Monday’s BCS title game, he’ll become just the 10th receiver in Florida State history to reach 1,000 yards — and the program’s first since 2000.

And it’s fitting Rashad sits where he does in the FSU record books with a year of eligibility remaining. After all, it was his goal to become one of FSU’s greatest wideouts in school history when Fisher recruited him three years ago.

“I don’t believe it’s luck. I feel like you control your own destiny the way you prepare and go about your business,” he said. “It’s how you go about yourself and take care of your business preparing.”

There’s a strong chance that after the game, Greene may be preparing for a life in the NFL. His statistics this season, coupled with the fact he’s led the national powerhouse Seminoles in receiving for three straight years, almost guarantees he’ll be selected in the first six rounds if he decides to forgo his senior season after Monday’s season finale.

If he does, said Cassandra, the Greene family support him. But if the three-time ACC All-Academic selection decides to return for one more season, finish up his sports management degree and further cement his Florida State legacy, they’ll more than support that, too.

“Rashad knows he’ll be facing a decision (based on the projections of his draft stock) after the game,” Cassandra said. “But for now, he’s just focused on the game. I’m sure of that. Once it’s over, we’ll sit down as a family, talk it over and support him in whatever he decides.”

Rashad Greene the Prophet

Shortly after the Seminoles touched down in Pasadena, Fisher went on a media tour and had to bring two players with him. One was All-American senior defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. The other was Rashad.

Dressed in a sharply tailored black suit and sporting a non-stop smile, Rashad has been everywhere the last couple of days — from interviews at ESPN headquarters to snapping pictures with Goofy, Daffy, Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland.

“It’s fun to watch, to see a kid from Albany who went to Westover go on and do great things,” said Westover principal William Chunn, who added that Rashad was one of those kids “you never, ever forget” as an educator. “I can tell you from an administrative standpoint — as someone who handled discipline — Rashad was a kid I’d never see. Even as a freshman and sophomore, he was always a very well-behaved, good student — almost professional-acting at that age. He was a pleasure to have at school, and we hated when he left.”

In Rashad’s January 2012 interview with The Herald, he called leaving Albany “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” But since FSU is just 90 miles from home, he’s had little trouble getting back often during the last three years. And when he does, the love he gets from the Good Life City means the world to him.

“You definitely get a lot of calls and texts and e-mails congratulating you and stuff (from everyone back home) about going to the national championship,” he said. “You just say thank you for that.”

Chunn, who has an autographed picture of the kid the Seminoles call “RG80” in his office, said ever since Florida State made the national championship game and it was clear Westover High School would have a representative, the students at school — especially the football players — have gone from looking up to Rashad to idolizing him.

“It’s just serving as a great motivator for all these kids,” said Chunn, whose Patriots football team won its first region title in school history this past season after more than four decades trying. “They see someone else from Westover go on to great things, they understand and believe that they can, too.”

The way Cassandra tells it, her son has believed this moment was coming since the first day of fall practice this year.

“I would call him after (the first few days of practice) and say, ‘Rashad, how are y’all gonna be this year? Who’s gonna be your quarterback now that E.J. (Manuel) is gone?’ ” Cassandra recalled. “And he would just tell me, ‘Momma, we’ve got this kid from Alabama, and he’s real good. You just watch, this is gonna be our season.’ “

Winston, a former Hueytown (Ala.) High School star and No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation, was the “kid” — and Rashad’s prediction from August was dead on. When asked about what made him so confident in this year’s team before it ever played a snap, Rashad explained his prophecy this week during a question-and-answer session on stage with Fisher and Joyner at the ESPN Zone at Disneyland.

“Everybody bought in from the summer when the freshmen came in, everybody wanted to be a part of it and knew we could have something special going on. The biggest thing that I realized about this team compared to the other teams, there’s not a selfish guy on this team,” said Rashad, who is the first Albany native since another former Westover star, receiver Antwone Savage of Oklahoma, to play for a national title since Savage’s Sooners won the BCS Championship in 2000 — beating, ironically, Florida State.

“Our motto is a player doesn’t care who makes it, and we’re all happy for each other, regardless of who makes plays,” Rashad continued. “I’m as happy as ever just to see those guys have success and we have success as a team. I just think the way everyone bought into each other and just cut out all the selfishness.”

Joining Cassandra in California will be two of Rashad’s brothers, Rahaem and Rod, as well his aunt Candace James, his uncle Travis Greene, sister-in-law Chasity Suttle and close family friend Patrisha Stills.

If Rashad and the Seminoles can win their third national title in program history Monday night — and FSU’s first since 1999 — it will officially mark the return of a once-dominant program led by a new cast players like Rashad, who are on the cusp of immense fame.

Cassandra says what her son has been part of this year at Florida State still hasn’t quite sunk in. She said it likely won’t hit her on the drive to Jacksonville, or the flight to Pasadena — or even when they slide into their seats at the famed Rose Bowl.

But Cassandra has a feeling the moment she sees No. 80 run onto the field Monday night and the fireworks go off, the waterworks will fly.

“They’ve had a great season, and I’ve been at every single game. Home and away — been at every one,” she said. “I sure hope they’re gonna win one more. I’m so excited and nervous just talking about it.

“I’m telling you, I may just cry.”