Greg Gilmore forced to grow up fast

Greg Gilmore knew something was amiss even before he arrived.

"I'm going back home and everybody is at my house," the junior defensive line prospect from Hope Mills (N.C.) South View said. "It already dawned on me that something was wrong."

Really wrong.

"He saw the cars there and he instantly knew something was wrong," said Glen Gilmore, Greg's father. "As soon as we pulled up, 'Where's Chris' truck at?'"

Glen couldn't tell his son the news. A career military man, he knows about duty -- and this wasn't his.

Glen just simply told his son to ask his mother what was wrong. She told him that his stepfather, Christopher Werentz, was killed in a shooting accident while serving in the Army in Georgia.

"It was hard because he did a lot for me," Greg said. "He came to all my games. He was actually stationed in Georgia but he drove down for all my games."

The elder Gilmore could quickly, clearly see the pain in his son's eyes.

"It was difficult," Glen said. "I knew him also. A lot times when I was in the next town over, he would confide in his stepdad. I knew how great of a guy he was and how his relationship was with Greg."

Werentz didn't have to be a father figure; Greg already had that. He and his father are still close, even though his dad had to move to California shortly after Werentz's death. The two talk almost every night.

Werentz, however, was still an important part of Greg's life and there's a void that is still there a year after the accident.

"We were real close," Greg said. "He was like one of my best friends, not like a dad, but more of a close, close friend."

Now, Greg has been forced to adapt. He has three brothers, ages 19, 11 and six months.

Greg now considers himself the man of the house. He mows the yard. He takes his younger brother to school. And he's even been known to change a diaper or two.

"He'll babysit for me," said Tina Werentz, Greg's mom. "He'll keep [his 6-month-old brother] if I need to work on a Saturday. Instead of him being out with his friends, he's home.

"We're just a really close-knit family. We had some things that happened in our life that have been challenging and it just brought us closer together as a family."

Glen is still in the Marines after serving 21 months on three tours in Iraq. He may be 3,000 miles away, but he can still hear the maturity in his son's voice when the two speak.

"The way he actually talks," Glen said. "He talks like a father."

Werentz served in Iraq as well. Details of his death are still vague, but he was around long enough to see his stepson grow into a college football prospect. A member of the ESPNU Watch List, Greg has scholarship offers from Clemson, South Carolina, Eastern Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Tennessee.

"I love playing football," the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder said. "It really just gets my mind off of a lot of things. ... It keeps my mind off stress with school and family. I've got a lot of responsibilities [since] my stepdad died. My real dad lives in California so I've got a lot of responsibilities. It keeps my mind off of that. It keeps me happy.

"Every emotion I have, I just take it out on the field."

Tina has seen what the sport has meant to her son.

"It is his outlet to be a kid and it also has helped him grow up into a young man because football ain't easy," Tina said. "He loves it. He works hard at it. He's passionate about it. It's all he talks about it, so it has really helped him."

But there is so much more to Greg than just football.

"He's always been a very responsible child, since he was 12," Tina said. "He's helped with his younger brother. He's just been a blessing. He takes responsibility, not only at home, but outside of the home. He's a good kid, to be 16-years-old.

"He's home when he's supposed to be. He calls me so I don't worry about him. He's a very responsible child. That's why I don't mind doing extra things for him because he listens and he is a good kid. I don't have to worry about anything. He doesn't even bring kids home that he knows mom wouldn't approve of."

Those extra things mostly consist of football camps, which continue to feed Greg's passion for the game. Yet they're not cheap, especially when Greg is invited to so many because he's widely considered one of the top junior prospects in the Southeast -- if not beyond.

"Some of them can be a little costly," Tina said. "Me and his dad get together and pay for those for him. Just extra stuff like that that's not in our budget, we work a little harder to make sure he's able [to participate]. He loves football and he's a good kid."

Sure, technically a 16-year-old is a "kid," but that doesn't seem an apt description for Greg. Whether he's the man of the house, a kid or a football prospect, Greg is just trying to manage as best he can.

That's why his dad is just a phone call away, offering whatever advice might seem appropriate at the time.

"All the fatherly stuff that goes on," the elder Gilmore said, when asked what the two talk about, "because I know how important it is to a son with a father not being there every day."

That loss is felt every day. And Greg does his best to ease his mind about his dad's future in the military.

"He's not worried about whether I'm going back to Iraq or not," Glen said. "He's not worried about that. We've talked about that enough where he knows I'm never going back to Iraq."

At least that's one less thing that the man of the house will have to concern himself with.

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.