There was a time, early in his high school football career, when Morlon Greenwood did not even know what the term "first down" meant. The former Freeport linebacker by way of his birthplace in Kingston, Jamaica, was a fast learner and look at him now: first class all the way.
Greenwood proudly took the podium in the historic Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola, and laughingly recounted his athletic odyssey that led to his being introduced Wednesday as one of 28 members of the inaugural class of the Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame, whose stated purpose is to recognize, preserve and promote the heritage of interscholastic sports in Nassau County.
"I'm from Jamaica, so I was playing soccer. It took a month to convince me to go out for the football team," Greenwood said of the efforts of Freeport football coach Russ Cellan in the early fall of 1995. "I played four games before I even learned what a first down was. I remember in practice, coach Cellan was saying, 'On first down, Morlon, what are you going to do?' I'm just looking at him. Then it dawned on him, 'Oh, you don't even know what a first down is, do you?' Tonight your homework is to go home and watch Monday Night Football. I remember I watched the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals."
While that's the kind of homework assignment any kid would love, Greenwood clearly learned his lessons well. After his junior year, and just eight games of varsity football, he was offered a full scholarship to Syracuse. He started 48 straight games for the Orange over a stellar four-year career and got drafted in the third round by the Miami Dolphins. He started there for four years, signed a big free-agent contract with the Houston Texans, and started four more years. He wound up playing on Monday Night Football; how's that for a practical application of a high school homework assignment?
Among the other inductees announced yesterday were Jim Brown, the multisport star at Manhasset; Cold Spring Harbor basketball star Wally Szczerbiak; Garden City field hockey and girls lacrosse coach Diane Chapman; and football coaches Howie Vogts (Bethpage), Buddy Krumenacker (Hempstead, Farmingdale), Tom Flatley (Garden City) and Don Snyder (Farmingdale).
All 28 candidates, 17 men and 11 women, will be formally inducted at a ceremony on Sept. 30 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. The permanent home for the Hall of Fame may be announced that night.
It's hard to imagine any of them being more appreciative of the honor than Greenwood. "Freeport has done so much for me and gave me the opportunity to provide for myself and my family and have a career I wouldn't have had if we hadn't landed in Freeport," Greenwood said.
It was Cellan, still Freeport's head football and assistant wrestling coach, who also got Greenwood involved in his other high school sport. "Coach Cellan was my gym teacher in the ninth grade when we were playing this game called 'king of the mat.' I pinned everybody and I won three times a row," Greenwood said.
Cellan's initial pitch for this sport confused Greenwood. "Coming from Jamaica, watching wrestling, I was used to WWF," he said, chuckling. "I told him, 'Coach I'm not jumping off the ropes.' He said, 'This is not WWF. This is scholastic wrestling. Olympic style.' "
It took another year of Cellan's hard-sell approach, but, as with football, Greenwood caved. As a senior, he became Freeport's first state wrestling champ in 26 years.
"If coach Cellan hadn't seen the talent in me, I would never have done any of that on my own," he said. "I wouldn't be standing here today."