Small-town guy earns a big-time NFL paycheck

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 6, 2011 - 12:45 PM

Chad Greenway grew up playing nine-man football in South Dakota. Now the LB is the new $41 million man.

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Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway

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Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway didn't have to sign a five-year, $41 million deal worth a guaranteed $20 million Monday.

At 28, in the prime of his career and playing at a time when NFL salaries are climbing rapidly, Greenway could have played out the 2011 season, made the $10.9 million bonanza that came with the franchise tag and possibly gone after even more money on the open market in 2012.

"Nah," Greenway said. "I wasn't concerned about all that."

Though he has just become one of the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebackers in league history, Greenway still has inside him that skinny, little farm kid who beat the odds playing nine-man football in tiny Mount Vernon, S.D.

"You got to sell a lot of feeder pigs to make that kind of money," said Greenway, referring to Monday's payday. "That's a lot of hours in the barn."

The Vikings were eager to get a deal done with Greenway. So eager that they put a long-term deal for All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson on the back burner to make sure they extended Greenway before a Sept. 20 league-imposed deadline that ends negotiations with franchise players.

"Chad is one of those guys who is really on the [rise] from a leadership standpoint and as a playmaker," coach Leslie Frazier said.

"You really want to get those guys in the fold. He's one of those guys that if he gets on the market, it's going to be tough to keep him."

Greenway agreed to the deal a couple of days ago, but waited until the players returned to work Monday to sign the contract. Before the ink was dry, he called home with the good news.

The Greenways of Mount Vernon, S.D., run a hog, crop and cattle farm. Chad's dad, Alan, is a rural mail carrier as well. In other words, the Greenways don't have time for phone call chit-chat during the middle of the day.

So when Chad reached his mother, Julie, she had three things to say: 1. She was happy because she wouldn't have to buy new jerseys for the next five years; 2. She was happy the granddaughters, Maddyn and Beckett, will stay relatively close to home; and 3. She had to run because she had to go rake some hay.

"She had to let me go," Greenway said. "She's really busy."

Greenway grew up in that town of fewer than 400 people. Loading hogs, fixing fences, raking hay, you name it. But he also dreamed early and relentlessly about playing in the NFL.

"I was a [high school] quarterback for about six minutes," Greenway said. "Then they moved me to safety. Then to linebacker about a month later. The hard part was gaining 50 pounds. I was really skinny."

He won two high school state nine-man titles, went to Iowa and was drafted 17th overall by the Vikings in 2006.

Covering a kickoff on the third play of his first preseason game, Greenway's season ended when he blew out a knee.

"Obviously, it's been a long road since then," Greenway said. "When the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] popped, it really started from there. Just wanting to get better and more consistent every day."

The Vikings value Greenway's consistency, versatility and comfort level in a defensive system that's been in place since Greenway's rookie season.

He's a three-down player trusted with handling tight ends and running backs in man coverage and even receivers in underneath zone coverages. He also has led the team in tackles in each of the past three years.

Greenway praised the Vikings as a "top-notch" organization and said he couldn't be happier with how far the skinny, little kid from Mount Vernon, S.D., has come

"You get put in the right positions," Greenway said. "Then a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, and here we are."

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