When a Marine Becomes a Lion
Like almost everyone in the United States, Austin Grey was changed by 9/11.
The Saint Leo University (SLU) sophomore remembers clearly watching the event unfold while in eighth grade at Fox Middle in Spring Hill.
"I was sitting in my history class, and it really bothered me," said Grey, 25. "I wasn't old enough to go in the armed forces, but I always had it in the back of my head that it was something I would look into doing."
He had a choice after graduating from Central High in 2006: join the military or pursue a career in golf, a game he picked up at age 5. Grey was a standout while playing for the Bears and was named the 2004 Player of the Year for the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference.
Grey had been recruited by SLU, but opted to join the Marine Corps.
"I did want him to come out of high school," said eighth-year SLU coach Ray Cisbani. "It was a really good recruiting class that year, and he would have been an intricate part of that. He was up front with me and said he wants to go serve the country. I obviously respected him for that."
Grey spent five years and three months in the military, rising to the rank of corporal. He was deployed to Kuwait at the end of 2008, where he was with security forces.
"Our main objective when we were over there was training the local police, and then we did bilevel training with the Kuwaiti National Guard for about 30 days," Grey said. "We basically helped train their forces, really, and we exposed weaknesses in the embassy."
Grey said the culture shock of going halfway around the world wasn't as bad as he anticipated.
"I was relatively safe where I was at," Grey said. "It was weird because the first restaurant I saw when I got there was a Chili's, so it could have been a lot worse."
The calmness of the golf course is a big change from what he experienced while serving.
"Well, there's no gunfire on the golf course, usually," Grey said with a smile. "I don't know. I don't know how to explain it. I enjoy golf. I like being out there. I also enjoyed being in the military. They're obviously completely different; very different career paths."
He attended the College of the Desert in 2012, where he continued his passion for golf. There, he was a California Community College Athletic Association conference and state medalist.
After his first year of college, Grey decided to see if Cisbani was still interested in having him join the Lions. His coach was thrilled to get a second chance at recruiting him.
"I was looking for his kind of chemistry to add to the team," Cisbani said.
Cisbani knew Grey since age 11 because he competed against his son in soccer and golf while growing up.
"He was always intense," Cisbani said. "I was telling my wife how intense he was when he won a meet, and what she said was, 'I remember how intense he was in soccer.' He was always that way with soccer and golf. The Marine Corps probably just stepped that up. I like intensity."
Cisbani said Grey's experience serving helped him become a mentally tough golfer.
"I'm sure what he went through matured him, and I think golf, more so than any other sport that has been played, it's a sport where maturity is most important," Cisbani said. "You hear it all the time. He comes in at a little older age. He brings that calmness, but that intensity that we want."
Grey's talents were on full display during the Indian Bayou Classic Oct. 9. He shot a two-under 70 on the final round to win the individual tournament championship.
"It was an awesome experience," said Grey, who is majoring in sports business. "I expect to do well. I don't come to play and do bad. To win, I kind of expected to put myself in a position to win. The main goal is to help the team win."
The Lions concluded the season at the Rollins Invitational Oct. 22 to 23, four days before Grey and his fiancée, Gina, were married.
Grey said his goal is to be a professional golfer and has high aspirations for his final two years of college.
"I want to win a national title with this team," Grey said. "That's the goal."
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker