[size=18px]Vikings' Chad Greenway: A prairie home competitor[/size]

Vikings rookie Chad Greenway holds tight to his roots on a South Dakota farm where the value of hard work shared billing with dedication to excel.

Judd Zulgad, Star Tribune
Last update: July 13, 2006 – 11:00 PM



MOUNT VERNON, S.D. -- Before he became the Vikings' first-round draft pick ... before he played a single down at the University of Iowa ... even before he became a multisport star at Mount Vernon High School ... ... Chad Greenway learned the meaning of competition from older sisters Kelly and Jenni. "Those girls used to whale on him," said Alan Greenway, Chad's father. "Somebody would come out bawling or screaming or something. You knew something happened."

Growing up in a farmhouse 5 miles from the center of this small town (population 477), the Greenway kids frequently were making something happen when they weren't tending to their daily chores. A 100-meter course was marked off in the gravel driveway; a basketball hoop was the site of heated battles; tackle football was played after the snow fell.

And the competitions weren't confined to the outdoors. A Michael Jordan hoop in the living room provided plenty of rough-and-tumble action for young Chad Greenway.

"Since I was six years older, we had to try to make things a little bit more fair," said Kelly, at 29 three years older than Jenni. "Chad was probably 5. I was taller and bigger, so all I could do was be on the floor. He could run around everywhere and shoot. I had to shoot from the floor, laying down. If he got close to me I could trip him or whatever. That was our game."

Things often didn't end with smiles. "There were a lot of fights," Alan said.

"Tons [of fights]," Chad said. "Everything and anything, we fought over. We were so competitive and wanted to win so badly that it naturally came out."

That competition, not to mention the work ethic instilled by his parents, served Chad Greenway well.

The Vikings' decision to select Greenway with the 17th pick in April's draft was the latest highlight on an athletic résumé littered with them.

Greenway excelled in baseball, basketball and track at Mount Vernon -- the school is kindergarten through 12th grade -- and holds state records in the triple jump and 110-meter hurdles. But football was the sport that got him recognized and earned him a Division I scholarship to Iowa.

A quarterback and free safety on a nine-man team that was part of a co-op with nearby Stickney, Greenway was a three-time all-state selection and led his team to state titles in his junior and senior seasons (1999 and 2000). Those teams went a combined 23-1, and in Greenway's senior year he threw for 1,147 yards and ran for 1,320. On defense, he intercepted four passes and had more than 100 tackles.

Toughness proven

His abilities were coupled with toughness. Rubin Earl, 26, was a senior when Greenway joined the varsity as a freshman and became a starting safety. In the fifth game, Greenway broke his hand. "He finished the game," Earl said. "We took him to the emergency room afterward. They put a soft cast on it, and Chad played the rest of the year."

Greenway's ability to tolerate pain continued at Iowa, where he landed after former Hawkeye Jon LaFleur told the coaching staff that they might want to check out the kid from a small town. Greenway was competing for a starting job by the spring of his redshirt year when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

He surprised everyone when he made his collegiate debut only four months later against Penn State. Greenway started the final 37 games of his career at Iowa, including three bowl games, and finished ranked fifth on the school's all-time list with 416 tackles. He also had seven sacks.

Greenway's parents were in the stands for many of those games, frequently making the six-plus hour drive to Iowa City. They both saw a different Chad on the field than they did off of it.

"He can flip a switch," Alan said. "On the field he acts different than he does in person. There is no doubt about it."

Said Julie: "Sometimes he's out there and I know he's talking garbage to someone. I'm like, 'Geez, Chad don't. It's just football.' That would never happen off the field. He would never do it."

The change in demeanor helped Greenway become the first linebacker from Iowa to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Local hero

Joe Hull's 66 years have all been spent in Mount Vernon, and he has seen countless local athletes play in more games than he can remember. He does not mince words when it comes to Greenway. "This town will never forget what he accomplished," Hull said. "You don't dream of a small-town kid doing this."

Hull was sitting at a table in Wermers' Lounge and Steakhouse as he discussed Greenway's success. Many residents packed into Wermers in late April to watch the NFL draft. Behind the bar, a Vikings hat has been added to where an Iowa Hawkeyes football jersey already hangs.

The obvious sense of pride in Greenway, however, should not be mistaken for awe. And that's just the way the 23-year-old likes it.

Greenway returned to Mount Vernon for a weekend in June to participate in festivities celebrating the town's 125th anniversary. The parade went down Main Street, which is home to Wermers as well as the Mount Vernon bank, post office, volunteer fire department, senior citizen's center and American Legion hall.

It had been suggested that perhaps a float should be built for Chad. He quickly declined. Instead, he rode on a flatbed that included several family members and his fiancée, Jenni. (The two will be married this weekend in Jenni's home state of Illinois and already have purchased a house in Eden Prairie.)

Greenway, a communications major at Iowa, stayed for the town social afterward, talking to old friends and making new ones. "You can go back and just be yourself and have fun," he said.

But shortly before an auction of Greenway memorabilia began, he was nowhere to be found. Forced to bask in his own celebrity, Greenway disappeared.

Earl, who works at the County Fair Food Store in Mitchell, said Greenway's attitude plays a large role in how people feel about him. "You can put him with Joe Blow or the most-known person in town and he would be the same."

Parental influence

Alan and Julie Greenway both attended school at Mount Vernon. They married in 1976 at the age of 18 and, like many of their relatives, have spent their entire lives here. Both their daughters are married with kids -- there are five grandchildren -- and remain in town. Jenni owns Mount Vernon's lone convenience store.

Chad's grandfathers reside within a few miles of the red farmhouse in which he grew up. Alan and Julie have more than 1,000 acres where they raise pigs and stock cows. They rent a field to plant corn, wheat, alfalfa and soybeans. Alan also handles a mail route.

Chad and his sisters spent many hours helping on the farm.

"It came down to just doing what you had to do to get the work done that day," Chad said. "My parents molded me through hard work and basically earning everything you get. That's something that has stuck with me through today."

That hard work has put Greenway in line to receive a lucrative rookie contract from the Vikings. He has talked about giving back to his school but knows his wealth won't change his parents' mentality one bit.

"They wouldn't allow me to help them in any way [financially] because they love to farm," Greenway said. "It's like me playing football, their farming. Even if they had all the money in the world, they would be doing it."

Chad already is planning on one present for his parents. He plans to fly them to Washington, D.C., for the Vikings' regular-season opener on Sept. 11.

But Greenway's parents say they will be a bit more selective about traveling to Chad's games. "When he was in college it was still like he was a kid," Julie said. "Now he's an adult. It's not like I follow the rest of my kids to their jobs. The good thing is we can watch every game on television."

One game that nobody will miss is the Vikings' home opener Sept. 17 against Carolina. The town of Mount Vernon might shut down for that one. Among the most proud will be Kelly, who said she still loves competing with her little brother, just in less physical games.

"We get choked up when we start talking about it," she said of Chad's ascent to the NFL. "It's amazing what he has done. You can't really wrap your brain around it yet that that's what your little brother has accomplished."

CHAD GREENWAY

Height: 6 feet, 2 inches

Weight: 242 pounds

Age: 23

Hometown: Mount Vernon, S.D.

College: Iowa

Drafted: First round (17th overall), 2006, by the Vikings

Projected role: Will be used by Vikings at weak-side linebacker. Likely will open training camp as backup to E.J. Henderson but could assume starting role if Henderson is moved to middle.

Strengths: Has good coverage skills and is considered very good in the open field. Will make plays sideline-to-sideline.

Weaknesses: Scouts felt his senior season was not as strong as his junior year, but that had as much to do with the fact the Hawkeyes' defensive line was more inexperienced. Probably needs to be more physical.

Did you know? Greenway and his fiancée, Jenni Capista, are getting married Saturday in her hometown of Shorewood, Ill. The two met at Iowa.

Vikings' Chad Greenway: A prairie home competitor