Gaines has become a key player for the Huskies. He had 10 tackles against Utah in 2015, started each game last season and earned the team’s L. Wait Rising lineman of the year award. He has started each game this year as well.

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Greg Gaines has had an excellent career with the Washington Huskies but around this time last year, the defensive lineman did something that really set him apart from his teammates. He proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Sheyeann.

He and Sheyeann had dinner at the Space Needle, then went to Gas Works Park where Gaines knelt down in customary fashion as he presented her with an engagement ring and his marriage proposal.

“I’d been thinking about it for a long time but didn’t know when to do it,” Gaines recalls of the proposal. “I probably decided the summer before last season. I was looking for rings for a couple months and then found what I liked. I was going to wait longer, but I think it was like burning a hole in my pocket so I had to do it.”

The two had been dating for roughly six years, since their sophomore year of high school in La Habra, Calif., so they had been a couple for quite some time and had discussed marriage. Still, Sheyeann was shocked at Gaines’ proposal. “I surprised her pretty good.’’

Her face erupting with a big smile, Sheyeann quickly accepted the proposal, and the two were married in July.

What also is notable about this is Gaines is the only player on the Husky football team who is married. There were a few players who were married on last year’s team, including backup quarterback Tony Rodriguez. That hasn’t been unusual in the past. Among notable former Huskies who were married while playing at Washington were quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Billy Joe Hobert.

Former UW coach Jim Lambright also was married while a defensive end for the Huskies in the early 1960s, along with a couple of other players on the team. While still playing, he and his wife had a daughter, Kris, who took her first steps in Pasadena, Calif., when the Huskies were there for the 1964 Rose Bowl (she also went on to play in the Husky band).

There may not have been a lot of married players in the old days, but there probably are fewer now.

“It’s not very common anymore nowadays that people get married this young, so (the proposal) was very shocking,” Sheyeann said. “But I’m happy he did it, obviously, because it’s every girl’s dream to get married.’’

Especially when it’s to a person you love and admire.

“(Greg) is very outgoing; he’s super funny once you get to know him,” she says. “He’s a very good person, he has good morals, and he really works hard. That’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about him, that he’s a really hard worker.”

The hard work is evident from Gaines’ play as a Husky.

Gaines was a standout at La Habra High School, and he was named the league MVP and first team all-county by The Orange County Register. He was recruited by schools such as USC, Oklahoma and Colorado but chose Boise State because he was impressed by then-Broncos coach Chris Petersen — “I just knew he was a great guy and honest with me.”

When Petersen left Boise State to coach the Huskies before Gaines had finished high school, he asked Greg to join him at Washington. The lineman quickly accepted and became a Husky.

“He’s one of the guys I chuckle about in recruiting because I don’t think anyone really talked about him very much,” Petersen says. “He was one of those guys committed to us before we came here and we knew he was going to be a really good player. And then, typical in recruiting, toward the end, everyone tried to recruit him, but he stuck to his commitment and that’s just what he was going to do.’’

Determined to improve

After redshirting his freshman year at UW — he almost lost his redshirt status when he was sent onto the field for one play by then-defensive-line coach Jeff Choate before being called back at the last second by Petersen — Gaines has become a key player for the Huskies. He had 10 tackles against Utah in 2015, started each game last season and earned the team’s L. Wait Rising Award, given to the lineman of the year. He has started every game this year.

“He’s done everything we thought he would do, he’s the type of player we thought he would be,” Petersen says. “We thought he would be one of the better players in the Pac-12 and be a difference maker. And so, he’s done what we thought he would do.”

Jaimie Bryant, former Husky and the best man at Gaines’ wedding, said Greg is always determined to improve himself.

“Always, even when it comes to small things,” Bryant says. “Like, we went skeet-shooting up north a little bit and he had just got a new shotgun from his dad. He had never shot with it and I had never shot with it. I outperformed him a bit, and then the next week we did it again and he outshot me by a lot.

“He’s always willing to improve in anything.”

He also has a passion for cliff-diving, so much so that he and friends annually jump off the Montlake Bridge, which is next to Husky Stadium and about 46 feet above the water.

Gaines said his most memorable moment on the field was his third-down sack during last year’s home game against Stanford.

“That was the loudest I ever heard the stadium — it was so cool,” he says. “It was right before the half, and they were driving to score and I got the third-down sack, and we went into the tunnel and I was like deaf.”

Gaines needed surgery on his pectoral muscle after injuring it while weightlifting last spring but said it has healed. He is playing with a sprained posterior-collateral ligament in his left knee but said it is a problem only when he needs to sprint a fair distance. He wears a brace and expects it to heal soon.

Injuries can be a concern in football. Bryant suffered a back injury while he was a defensive tackle and took a medical retirement from football. So imagine what it is like for a spouse with her husband hitting and getting hit on the field.

“Every game, every time he gets up, I’m like, ‘OK, he’s good,’ ” Sheyeann says. “The whole game I’m watching. They get hurt left and right — anything can happen.”

When Gaines comes home at the end of the day, he will ask his wife, who is majoring in health science, to “crack” his back, an additional massage therapy to that which he receives at UW. “Basically he just lays on the floor, and I walk on him,” she says with a laugh.

A decision looms

Having redshirted, Gaines is a junior with one more year of eligibility at Washington but says he likely will graduate this spring with a degree in communications and a minor in business. The question is whether he will declare himself for the NFL draft or stay with the Huskies one more season.

“It’s a big decision to make — pretty scary,” he says. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet. I’m waiting until after the season to even think about it.”

Gaines said he often is asked whether he is related to former Seahawks linebacker Greg Gaines, who played eight seasons with Seattle in the 1980s. The Husky says he doesn’t think so and adds that they have not met. But he plans to follow him to the NFL.

“I definitely want to play in the NFL. That’s the dream,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind staying here and playing on the Seahawks. I like the area. But you never know where you’re going. That’s another scary thing about it. You could go anywhere in the country. You don’t get to pick a team like in college. You just get picked.”

In the meantime, Gaines will enjoy the rest of this solid season, plus something not many college football players do while still playing these days: Going home from practice to be with his loving spouse.

Says Petersen of married players: “I like it. I’m good with it. It’s like, ‘Yeah, go hang out with your wife.’ You know, they’re probably in better hands than if they don’t have a wife. With girlfriends, there’s all kinds of drama, so that’s a little bit shaky. Newlyweds — it’s all good for a couple years.”

And hopefully, for years after that.

“She’s beautiful and funny and awesome,” Gaines says of his wife. “And she takes good care of me.”