HERSHEY, Pa. -- West Florida sophomore Gary Buffington III is the kind of kid every parent would love to have in their home, and the kind of dedicated athlete every coach would like to have on a team.

Bufffington was presented with the Elite 89 Award for NCAA Division II men’s golf Sunday night, and it wasn’t just an honorary thing, either. He earned the recognition -- which goes to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average at each of the NCAA’s championship sites -- with a perfect 4.0 GPA as an accounting major.

“It means a lot to me,” said Buffington Monday, just minutes after the final hole here at Hershey Country Club. “But to me, getting good grades and doing that kind of stuff is something you’re supposed to do. It’s not going above and beyond. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do. It does take a lot of work, but I try my best.”

Millions of students talk about time management, but Buffington lives it. He’s the co-captain of West Florida’s men’s golf team. A native of Tampa, he gets up early and stays up late -- if not all night -- to get schoolwork completed. The work, obviously, has paid off.

According to Argonaut head coach Steve Fell, Buffington has never made a B. Ever. As in, straight As for life.

“It takes a lot of time management and, usually, a lack of sleep,” Buffington said with a smile. “I try to set my schedule to where I’m up really early. If I get up real early, it’s a good chance to get some homework done without any interruptions.”

If there’s a key to Buffington’s success in the classroom, it’s more than likely this. He doesn’t do just enough to get by with a decent grade, but instead works ahead as much as possible.

That’s called staying ahead of the curve. It’s also called being one heck of a dedicated student athlete.



“I study a lot,” said Buffington, as if it needed to be spelled out. “I read my books before the semester starts. That way during the semester, if I’m spending time with golf, I’ll have it read before I get there.”

And, yes, he’s taking a couple of summer classes. While in Hershey, a couple of quizzes awaited.

Buffington’s father, Gary Jr., played golf at West Florida from 1985 to 1987, and was an All-American in 1987. That’s not the only family connection on the Argonaut golf squad. Teammate Spencer Olson’s dad, Mark, played for the school way back when, as did older brother Blake and older sister Danielle Vannoy.

As Buffington talked, Fell stood just a few feet away, listening and smiling.

“He’s a hard worker, both on the course and in the classroom,” Fell said. “He amazes me how hard he works. He’s a coach’s dream. I would say he’s the heart and soul of the team. He has such a positive attitude. I just it before kind of jokingly, but it’s really true. He’s kind of the Drew Brees of our team.”

With two sophomores and three freshmen in its starting five, West Florida is fielding what is most likely the youngest team here at the DII championships. It was not the best of days for the team on Monday, standing 18th out of the 20 participating schools.

“It’s been challenging,” said Fell, who also played for the Argonauts. “They’re so young, that you’re just working on a lot of fundamentals, pretty much every facet of the game. We’ve made some big moves forward in progression as the season’s gone along.

“I’m proud of the guys. To get here is a big accomplishment. Obviously, we don’t want to perform like we did today. It’s disappointing, but hopefully they learned a lot from today.”

If Monday was disappointing, the clouds might very well have a silver lining. Yes, West Florida is a very young team, but it’s a young team that made it to the national finals. As they mature and their golf game improves, who knows what might happen in the next couple of years.

“I’m proud that they’re here,” Fell said. “It was a big accomplishment to advance through our super regional. There were 15 teams in the top 25, and we advanced through that ranked, I believe at the time, 22nd. So we beat a lot of really top-ranked teams to get here. I’m really proud of the guys for getting to this point, but we don’t want to rest on that.”