Prep Football: Northgate goes 'Green' for ailing Viking senior
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Whether you hear it from his coaches, his classmates or the 280-pound senior lineman himself, Austin Green put his heart into playing football at Northgate High.
But it’s also what’s stopping him from ever taking the field again.
“I just felt helpless,” Green admitted. “I was probably in the best shape of my life. When they told me I couldn’t play, I was devastated.”
In turn, Green’s classmates have planned a “Green Out” for tonight’s home game against North Clayton. Over a hundred “Fear the Beard” T-shirts were sold — most of which in less than a day — at the high school to allow students to show their support for the burly, yet easygoing senior whose facial hair closely resembles country singer and Georgia native Zac Brown.
“We just thought we could do something for him, because he’s just a genuine person,” said Hannah Aldredge, who helped organize the “Green Out” with classmates Peyton Cain, Russell Durrance and others at Northgate. “I’ve known him since elementary school. We all know how much he loved playing football. It meant to much to him.”
Aldredge contacted a local T-shirt company and initially secured 100 shirts not knowing how many they could sell in a week. Within three hours of class on Monday, they were sold out, with another 100 or so expected by game-time tonight.
The end result expects to provide strong patches of green gathered among the usual sea of maroon tonight among the homeside stands at Henry Seldon Field.
Green had expected to be a big part of this year’s Viking offense after filling in where needed on a senior-heavy front line a Region 3-AAAA championship lineup. Following a strong spring and two months of summer workouts all that was left just prior to the first practice was a last-second physical to update his medical records.
That day, however, Green didn’t show for practice and Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn immediately knew something was amiss.
“That’s not like him at all to miss practice,” Walburn said. “I mean, he never misses a practice.”
An irregular heartbeat led Green to an appointment with a local cardiologist, who did even more tests including a cardiogram to find an answer. The search eventually led to a week-and-a-half stay in the ICU unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta where doctors discovered an enlarged heart as well as heart disease.
He is currently receiving treatment that includes a multitude of medications, but has been told by doctors that he can still have a normal life expectancy.
For a 17-year-old athlete, though, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow.
“I felt cheated,” Green said of the disappointing news.
The blow was just as big to Northgate’s staff, having seen the senior work his way up through the depth chart over the past two years.
“It was a crusher for us, and especially a crusher for him because he’s been such a hard worker,” said Walburn, whose staff had Green penciled in as the team’s starter at strong tackle to open the preseason. “He was in great shape. For being two hundred and eighty pounds, he’s got great feet. He played a lot last year for us. Most of all, he’s just a great kid. He’s one of the first guys I met when I came here. I just feel terrible for him.”
Green has tried to maintain a personality that classmates have described as gregarious while staying close to the team, attending practices and cheering on the Vikings in his No. 78 jersey on the sideline on game nights.
“I’ll do anything I can to help my team,” said Green, who when asked how the “Green Out” made him feel, replied, “It made me feel special.”