WHEELING - Geremy Paige's eyes lit up as though he had just seen an opposing runner breaking through the line of scrimmage. For perhaps the first time it was Paige that ended up being floored.
The Wheeling Park linebacker had a difficult time believing that he had been named the West Virginia Sports Writers Association's Huff Award winner, signifying the state's top defensive prep football player.
Paige became the first Patriots player to win the honor and he easily outdistanced runner-up Mason Hodge, a junior two-way star for Wayne.
"Are you serious?" he asked. "Wow, that is awesome."
Unbeknownst to Paige, he had pretty much summed up not only his senior season, but a career that saw him lead the Patriots to the playoffs three times as their top tackler. When Park advanced to the Class AAA semifinals in November for the first time since 1991, Paige registered 156 tackles, 12 sacks and recovered a pair of fumbles for a defense that was known for flying to the football.
"I'm so happy for him. A kid like him started preparing three years ago to be best defensive player in West Virginia," Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty said. "He has Division 2 offers coming in droves, but I still believe that if a big school gives him a chance, they will be really happy with him.
"They know they are getting a great kid with a great work ethic, who will be in the weight room every day at 6 a.m."
Known simply as "Gee," Paige at times seemed to know what the offense was going to do before it even broke the huddle. Whether it was stopping the run or covering receivers on bubble screens, Paige (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) continually ended plays.
"He finds the ball at 90 miles per hour and blows it up," Daugherty said.
"Probably the best thing about it is, he's sideline to sideline."
That's a good trait to have when going to the next level, wherever that may be.
Paige will have to play a lot more pass coverage than he did while at Wheeling Park.
"A lot of high schools aren't going to stretch the field and make you cover, because offenses tend to go wide," Daugherty said. "He can definitely run with a tight end or a back and he can get anywhere he needs to be.
"Most of all (colleges) want to see that tackle end, and he does that. He's a play-ender."
Off the field, Paige has a reputation for being every bit as good as he is on it, if not better.
"I forget who were playing, but someone brought a bunch of brownies in one day and the kids ran over there and were taking like 15 at a time," Daugherty recalled.
"Gee grabbed some and took them over to the freshmen players, some he probably didn't even know.
"From the freshman team to someone like (quarterback) Zach Phillips, who is on his level, everyone on the team loves Geremy. He treats everyone with respect. His parents did a great job with him and that makes it easy on us, because we don't have to teach him to be a great man. As coaches, all we have to do is teach him how to be a great linebacker."
Though the award is something Paige said he can one day tell his kids about, he would have traded it for a chance to play in last weekend's AAA title game, where he was informed he had won the honor.
"But I definitely see it as a positive because it's the first time we've been to the semis in years. That's a great feeling, but it still hurts that we're not playing," he said. "(The award) means the world to me. These three years I have been trying my hardest and busting my butt in the weight room and it has all paid off."
Not only that, but Paige worked extensively with assistant coach Rick Marsh to get better at being able to recognize what offenses were doing each week.
"His first year he was terrible at reading keys. If you faked to the left, he was going for it," Daugherty recalled. "Rick did a great job of coaching him up at reading the guard and the fullback.
"You can't trick him anymore."
The state knows that now.