Posted on Sun, Jun. 04, 2006
[size=18px]Growing up Greenway[/size]
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has been in some big spotlights as a star on a major college football team and a first-round draft pick, but he has remained a small-town kind of guy who takes pride in being from Mt. Vernon, S.D., population 477.
BY DON SEEHOLZER
MT. VERNON, S.D.
By car or truck, the entire tour doesn't take more than a few minutes.
Left at one street past the old practice field and track. Up another to see the town's two gas stations. Then back down Main Street, past a three-block huddle of buildings that includes a post office, bank and downtown's premier dining establishment, Wermer's Lounge and Steakhouse.
No, there isn't a lot to do in Chad Greenway's hometown, but that's OK. Little Mt. Vernon Ã¢â‚¬â€ population 477 Ã¢â‚¬â€ suits the Vikings' No. 1 draft choice just fine.
"That's very accurate," said Lee Bollock, the former University of Iowa linebacker's best friend and best man for his July 15 wedding. "We're all small-town people, and we always will be, no matter how big the city is that we live in."
No one understands that better than Bollock, who has known Greenway since they were 5 years old and attended kindergarten with him.
Bollock lives in Omaha, Neb., now, and Greenway and his fiancÃƒÂ©e recently found a house in Eden Prairie, but the two boyhood friends still have a lot of Mt. Vernon in them.
"You've got to understand," Greenway said. "I guess if you grow up in a big city, to think about living in the country seems crazy. It's the same for us."
"We're our own little community here, and for somebody to leave and go seven hours away is like crazy. People just don't do that. Guys my dad went to high school with, I went to school with their kids."
In case it isn't obvious, Greenway, one of 29 seniors in his high school graduating class, is enormously proud of his little hometown. And the feelings are mutual.
On draft day, most of the town assembled at the high school gym to help celebrate his selection by the Vikings with the 17th pick.
On this particular Saturday, a few of the locals have gathered to play cards in the back room of the gas station/convenience store managed by Greenway's older sister Jenni.
Joe Hull, who has lived all of his 66 years in Mt. Vernon, can't say enough good things about the town's favorite son.
"We take a lot of pride in him," Hull said. "We're proud of our little town, and the whole town is proud of him."
Not that anyone in this tiny farming hamlet is anything close to star-struck. Greenway might be the biggest thing ever to come out of Mt. Vernon Ã¢â‚¬â€ sports figure or otherwise Ã¢â‚¬â€ but around here, he's still just one of the guys.
"When he comes home, people are glad to see him, but they hardly even notice," his mother, Julie Greenway, said. "He's not any different than they are. He's just Chad when he's home."
No one needs to remind Greenway of that. No. 1 draft choice or not, the people who know him best say success definitely hasn't gone to his head.
"He's still down to earth," Bollock said. "He's still the same person he was in high school and I grew up with. That's what I like about him."
FIELD OF DREAMS
Understand this: Chad Greenway is no hick.
On the contrary, he's a media-savvy guy and aspiring broadcaster who will graduate from Iowa this summer with a degree in communication studies.
Likewise, Mt. Vernon is more than just a one-stoplight town full of pig farmers, but tending the hogs was one of many chores Greenway was responsible for while growing up in the little red farmhouse off one of the area's signature dirt and gravel roads.
His mother, asked at what age young Chad started helping with the farm work, thought a second and guessed, "Two? We would all help out."
That included Greenway's two older sisters, Jenni and Kelly, and parents, who have never known any other town or way of life.
"We both grew up here," Alan Greenway, Chad's father, said. "Both of us are from Mt. Vernon, and both of our dads are from Mt. Vernon."
Cows and calves graze in a field behind the house, and the hogs are kept in a large building on the same lot. A little way down the road is another rented field where the Greenways raise corn, soybeans and other crops.
"We farm about 1,000 acres, and we have another 800 acres or so of pasture," Alan Greenway said. "We sell about 4,000 head of hogs a year and 150 cows. We have a cow-calf operation. We don't fatten cattle, but we calve them out."
In addition to the farm work, Greenway's father delivers mail over a 110-mile route, so it's not hard to see where Chad got his work ethic.
"Summers are when you have to do the most work," Greenway said. "You'd wake up, and usually there was a list of stuff to do or there was field work to be done. Fix fence. The kids had their own barns to clean. They had like 12 sows in there, baby pigs. Somewhere along the line that had to get done. If somebody had a ballgame that night, somebody else had to pick up the slack."
Summer workdays could last from 5 in the morning until 10 at night and involve everything from mending fences to helping cows calve. The worst job, according to Greenway, was holding the pigs for neutering or "snipping."
"I was younger then," he said. "The pigs aren't really that heavy, but I thought they were at that point. You've got to hold them right here (around shoulder height) until mom gets done. That was one of the more difficult jobs."
For the most part, Greenway was an uncomplaining worker, according to his mother, but there were days and times when his mind would wander. Like kids everywhere, he grew up dreaming of playing in the NFL, NBA or some other professional sports league.
"I was always doing something with a ball," he said. "I had the hoop up in the drive. I thought I was going to be a T-Wolf, but then I wasn't 6-7. It kind of just worked out where I was playing all these sports, and eventually it settled that football was the one where I was going to have a chance to excel."
Greenway's father recalled that Chad rarely could sit still long enough to watch an entire NFL game, usually heading outside at halftime to shoot hoops or something.
"He was always athletic," his mother added. "When he was 5, he was athletic. I remember in kindergarten, the teacher telling me, 'That kid is fast.' "
According to his father, though, there is more to Greenway's success than just athletic ability.
"I think the biggest thing with Chad and all of our kids is the competitiveness," he said. "They don't like to lose, and that's the way it is. That's the way Chad is. He cannot stand to lose. Once in a while, I would beat him out here in H-O-R-S-E or something, and I guarantee we were going to play again until he won."
Myron Steffen said he first became aware of Chad Greenway when he coached the future first-round NFL draft choice in seventh-grade track, but it's not like he or anyone else would have predicted his success at the time.
"A lot of people have asked me that question," Steffen said. "I don't think anybody leaves a small town like Mt. Vernon and you say they're going to be in the NFL someday. He was a good athlete, but I don't think realistically you could have said he was going to be in the NFL."
What was apparent to Steffen and everyone else was that Greenway was an uncommon athlete.
He proved that by lettering in basketball, baseball and track in addition to football at Mt. Vernon High, winning four events in the 2000 state track meet, including the triple jump and 110-meter hurdles.
"He was always the biggest, strongest and fastest," said Bollock, who played cornerback on the school's nine-man football team. "He pretty much excelled in everything we ended up playing in. He was always at the top all through grade school and high school."
It was in football, though, that Greenway really shined, playing quarterback and free safety, returning punts and kickoffs, and leading the Knights to consecutive state titles as a junior and a senior.
Not bad for a school so small it had to combine with nearby Stickney just to field a nine-man team.
"I remember one game; I think it was his junior year," said Steffen, Mt. Vernon's football coach for the past 23 years. "The other team wouldn't punt to him. They'd always punt away from him or punt it deep out of bounds. He was talking to their coach, 'Come on, coach, punt it to me. Punt it to me.' The other coach got so mad, he finally told his punter to go ahead and punt it to him, and Chad ran it back for a touchdown."
Greenway did that kind of thing often enough to become a three-time all-state selection in South Dakota, earning first-team accolades his final two seasons.
As a senior, he passed for 1,147 yards and rushed for 1,320, while adding 132 tackles and four interceptions on defense, and Greenway said he never doubted he had the ability to make it to the NFL, even though Iowa was the only Division I-A school to offer a scholarship.
He also has never forgotten how then-South Dakota coach John Austin tried to talk him out of taking his official visit to Iowa City.
"He told me straight out I wasn't good enough to play there," Greenway said. "He wanted me to go to his school. That more than anything put me over the top that I'm going to show these guys."
Greenway impressed more than "these guys" at Iowa, where he was a three-year starter and two-time All-American whose 416 career tackles rank fifth in school history.
He also met his future bride, Jenny Capista, whom he plans to marry next month in her hometown of Shorewood, Ill., a little more than 40 miles southwest of Chicago.
"Freshman year in college we met," Greenway said. "She ran track and cross country, and they had an athlete study day. Obviously, I caught her eye."
Capista rolls her eyes at that comment, but with the wedding preparations in their final stages (they're planning a second reception in Mt. Vernon for those who can't attend), it's hard to argue.
"One of my friends knew him, that he had met at orientation that summer before school started," she said. "Then I lived down the hall from him, and some of the track girls hung out with him. You can't help but hang out with all the athletes."
When it came time to propose, Greenway said he did it the old-fashioned way, taking Capista to the Adler Planetarium overlooking downtown Chicago last July 23 and dropping to one knee.
That's right, downtown Chicago.
Greenway's fiancÃƒÂ©e has helped further his big-city education. He and his family introduced her early on to farm life, even putting her to work calling hogs and mowing the lawn.
"I was expecting them to roll out a push mower," she said. "I had never been on a riding mower before."
The results weren't pretty, but Capista and Greenway are happy that he was drafted by a Midwest team such as the Vikings instead of a big-city club from New York or Miami.
So were his parents, who didn't miss any of Greenway's games, home or away, during his final two seasons at Iowa and plan to attend every Vikings home game, at least, this fall.
"I was real happy," Julie Greenway said. "If he had been in New York or San Francisco, any time you went to see him, it was going to be 10 times harder. I've been to Florida four times with him for bowl games, and I prefer this part of the country."
That runs in the family, and Greenway still is a small-town kid at heart, but as far as NFL cities go, the Vikings and Eden Prairie represent the best possible fit.
"I wouldn't want to live in downtown Minneapolis," he said, "but I can handle the suburbs."
Don Seeholzer can be reached at [email protected]
Growing up Greenway