Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Grayson's Kasey Gaines, a Penn State commitment, was one of the senior leaders for the Rams this year and will represent the county in the Rivalries of Gwinnett All-Star game tonight.
Kasey Gaines weathers all the comments from his friends and family. He gets "annoying jokes all the time." But the Grayson senior, who committed to Penn State over the summer takes a different view on joining the Nittany Lions.
"They are different now. I could tell," Gaines said. "They had a great season, especially after going through what they've done and, with what they've been through, choosing me to be a part of the upcoming class, meant a lot to me."
Rather than dismiss former Central Gwinnett and Duke head coach Ted Roof, Gaines' lead recruiter, the defensive back with a state title ring opted to take the point of view that the knock on the door from Penn State meant he had been selected to represent a new era, a re-branding of a school, toppled to the bottom among the ranks of college football.
"It's been a ride. I was talking to them early in the spring and over the summer. I am excited about it," Gaines said. "I had my official last weekend and that was fun. Meeting everybody and the coaches, we bonded really well. I am excited about it."
Gaines doesn't know much about rebuilding an image, but he watched and lived the building of a football power during his time with the Rams.
Gaines' father was a member of the Grayson touchdown club the first year it existed. He watched his brother play for the Rams. Head coach Mickey Conn's wife taught Gaines in elementary school. He is no transplant strapping on the green and gold because it's the district he just moved to.
"I've been a Grayson boy my whole life," Gaines said.
And a football player almost as long.
Gaines first signed up for football in the third grade. He played other sports growing up, but once he hit high school, football ruled. He tried lacrosse as a freshman, but the affair ended there. Football was Gaines' calling.
He played some receiver but found himself, prone to physicality, playing defense. It's where he found the field with Grayson, directing its defense from the safety spot.
"I am kind of the leaders, one of the leaders on the defense," Gaines said. "I am kind of like the quarterback back there. That is just my role early, being a leader if I can."
He'll move to corner next year in State College, Pa., but it's not a surprise move. Roof and the coaches were clear where they wanted him. He took time this season to practice coverage and moved to the position in lopsided wins of which there were plenty.
"Corner will be a transition, but I am not worried about it," Gaines said. "As long as I go up there and pick up the scheme I'll be good.
"It's like one-on-one and you are all alone sometimes."
Gaines is OK with that. Just picking Penn State makes him alone. He has no family ties to the Midwest and isn't too fond of cold weather. But he's going to Penn State knowing the faults of living in or on the past. Grayson was the No. 1 team in the nation early this past season and ended far from the top of even Georgia.
"It wasn't our year," he said. "You can't base a season off of last season's accomplishments, obviously."