From Florida State football to Broward County sheriff

How 9/11 inspired Sheriff Gregory Tony for career in law enforcement

Sheriff Gregory Tony recalls how the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 inspired him to pursue a career in law enforcement.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and Gregory Tony was sitting in his Latin 101 class at Florida State University.

"And not having a lot of success in that course, but I can recall the moment of how it had shook the entire campus and the whole world had stopped," Tony said Wednesday, recalling how the terrorist attacks of that day forever changed the trajectory of his post-college career. "There was nothing else more important. There was nothing else more impactful to this nation."

Tony had come to Tallahassee to play football for the Seminoles under the legendary Bobby Bowden.

Up until that fateful moment in history, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior running back from Philadelphia was focused on his next game -- a top-10 matchup between the No. 6 Seminoles and No. 10 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Both teams were undefeated and ESPN's popular "College GameDay" show was headed to campus.

Then the first plane struck one of the towers at the World Trade Center. Then came the next plane.

When it was all over, nearly 3,000 people were dead from the attacks in New York, Tony's home state of Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

There would be no football that weekend. For Tony, there would be no more football. Period.

"And so, after seeing that, it was clear that I was done," Tony said during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on the 18th anniversary of the attacks. "There would be no more football. There would be no more self-consideration for what financial things would be beneficial for me to play and push towards a career in the NFL. It was going to be public safety. It was going to be service."

Tony would play in Florida State's next game -- a 41-9 loss to North Carolina -- before hanging up his cleats for good. He finished his FSU career having played in just four games, averaging 3.3 yards.

"After 9/11, it hit me very personally and the fact that, you know, I was a running back in college and I was watching, you know, first responders run into a building," Tony told Local 10 News after the ceremony. "And it just seemed important for me, if I had all this athleticism to where I can run a ball on a field, I probably should be one of the guys running into a building."

Broward Sheriff's Office deputies hold a ceremony honoring the fallen patriots whose lives were lost that fateful day.

So began a career in law enforcement, which included stints with the Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Highway Patrol and Coral Springs Police Department, where he spent almost a dozen years before becoming the first black sheriff in Broward County's history.

Tony was appointed sheriff in January after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Scott Israel for "neglect of duty and incompetence" in the wake of mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last year.

Although he's yet to rush into a crumbling building, Tony has put his athleticism to work, chasing down a teenage shoplifting suspect in May.