Nico Firios and Greg Gooch may argue with each other about who’s the better football player.
It’s certainly a good argument.
The two bookend linebackers at Longwood Lyman High have created that same quandary for college football scouts rolling in and out of the Greyhounds’ football practices this spring.
Each scout knows which one he likes better and some are vocal about it. Some try to keep it to themselves, trying not to let the others know which player they are recruiting.
“I’m faster than him,” Firios says within earshot of his bookend counterpart.
“That’s OK, baby … he brings the speed and I bring the impact,” Gooch retorts.
That’s not enough, however. Firios needs the last word on this one.
“I bring both,” he said.
They love to chide each other, and their good-natured fun carries over to a teamwork concept on the Lyman defense that second-year head coach Jeff Gierke relishes.
“You get two guys like that … you don’t get them very often,” Gierke said of the two Football Bowl Subdivision college prospects. “Greg is our emotional guy, and Nico is the one that keeps everyone in line.
“They go out there and they make these plays and everybody else wants to do the same thing … it’s a motivating factor and it’s great for these younger guys to see what it should look like. They’re extra coaches out there for me.”
Last season, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker were a similar tandem at Orlando Evans. They both were NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision talents, both All-Americans and they’ll both still be teammates at Auburn next season.
“It’s pretty rare ... I’ve been doing this for a long time and in the case of Tony and Dominic that’s the first time it had ever happened with me,” said Evans coach Chip Gierke, who is the uncle of the Lyman coach. “What made it so neat about Tony and Dominic was that these kids have known each other their whole lives growing up in the Pine Hills area and playing Pop Warner and that’s a pretty neat story ... and now they’ll be playing together at Auburn.”
Firios and Gooch are possibly the best linebacker tandem in the state and they feed off each other. Firios is a little leaner at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and Gooch is 6-foot-2, 235. They are ranked Nos. 8 and 9 in the current 2014 Central Florida Super60.
They probably razz each other about their rankings, as well.
When it comes to college scholarship offers, however, they say there’s no jealousy.
“I’m right behind him. If he has seven offers and I don’t have any, I’m good with that. It motivates me to be just like him,” Gooch said.
It’s an interesting analogy because seven offers is exactly how far ahead Firios is right now. Gooch has seven scholarship offers from FBS schools Arizona, Iowa State, Memphis, Minnesota, Mississippi State, UConn and Wisconsin.
College football recruiting is a baffling process. Firios and Gooch are two seniors of similar skills and size, same position and team, yet one has double the offers.
“Some teams say they want to offer him, but that they don’t think they can get him, so they don’t offer. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gierke said.
He doesn’t worry about it too much, though. Gooch figures what the Greyhounds do on the field this fall will dictate the path to his college future.
“It is kind of a hassle. People coming up to you every day and you’re wondering if they are going to offer you or not,” Gooch said. “Now I just don’t think about it and I just play football. I just put it out of my head after a while. If they want to offer me, then they will.”
No one knows these two better than perhaps Lyman quarterback Jared Reimel, who takes a few licks from both of them every day in practice, even though he wears the "hands-off" QB-red jersey.
"it's always rough when you go against Greg or Nico," Reimel said. "Taking hits after hits from them in practice gets quite annoying.
"Greg tends to notice the red jersey, but Nico tends to be colorblind when it comes to that kind of stuff."
So who's better?
"Nico definitely brings a bigger punch than Greg, but I think Greg is more consistent at making tackles," Reimel said.
On any other team by himself, each would be the middle linebacker, the do-all player roaming sideline to sideline.
“I’d probably feel a lot more pressure if I was on a team with less-similar players,” Firios said. “There is talent all over the defense here. It’s not just me and Greg. There’s Meshek [Floyd] or Tony Jones or Devonte Petty. Everybody is really talented and play their part. I love the defense we have and I feel like this is really our year to show what Lyman football is all about.”
For all their on-field bravado with one another, Firios and Gooch are humble.
“They both want Lyman to win, that’s their only goal,” Gierke said. “They don’t have big heads. They know they’re going to go play college football. Their whole goal for this year is to turn this thing around and make the playoffs.”
But the focus will be on those two running the defensive middle. Everyone wants to know how many offers each one has. Who’s the better player?
“Because of recruiting, a lot of attention is on me and Greg, but everybody out here is doing their best,” Firios said. “I’m so happy to be here and to be a part of this … to really start something awesome at Lyman.
“This is a huge opportunity for us; it’s not like a pressure thing. We went 5-5 last year. It’s not like we’re coming off a 10-0 season. We’re tired of being the underdog. We want people to think we’re supposed to win the games. It’s time for Lyman to rise up, and I think the school’s behind us and the administration and the whole community really.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.