HUTCHINSON, MINN. – In front of a bleacher filled with purple, Chad Greenway on Friday vowed he would return in 2017. The crowd erupted.

Oh, he's sticking by his plan to retire from the NFL after this season. He promised, though, to return to Chad Harlander's Day to Reach Camp for a ninth year.

That's how Greenway spent the last few days, driving from his home in Wayzata to Hutchinson High, home of Lindsay Whalen, to help Harlander attract kids to his camp, which features football but aims to build life skills.

Greenway can help with that. While becoming a star linebacker he has spent a lot of time and money on good works. On Friday, after giving a speech to more than 500 campers, he received the key to the city from Mayor Gary Forcier.

"I can use this to break into all the buildings, right?" Greenway said.

Ten years ago, Harlander helped Greenway at one of his camps in South Dakota, Greenway's home state. Greenway was so impressed with Harlander's energy and world view that he agreed to help Harlander run his camp.

So for the eighth consecutive summer, Greenway played touch football, ran drills, climbed a rock wall erected by the National Guard and signed hundreds of autographs, all the while acting as if everyone there was doing him a favor. The camp has grown from 100 to more than 500 participants, who learn about everything from football to nutrition to empathy.

"So 10 years ago, Chad was running his camp in Mitchell and I was asked by a common friend to come out and work the camp," Harlander said. "On Day 1 I believe we got there and was asked to get the kids together and get them excited about the day. I had never met Chad before.

"We got some energy going and after the camp he said he was planning to do a camp in Minnesota. I said, you know, there are a lot of football camps, but I'd like to do something different, with some character building."

Greenway hears lots of pitches for good works. He asked Harlander to put together a proposal. Harlander visited Greenway's home and visited with Chad and his wife, Jennifer. Again, Harlander impressed.

"We have such a good response and Chad does such a good job of putting it all together," Harlander said. "I do a few things and meet the kids, but he puts most of it together. I like his energy and what he stands for, and it's great for this area."

Two things stand out about the camps: Harlander's enthusiasm and Greenway's humility. If he weren't asked to sign autographs, Greenway would blend in with all of the other coaches and volunteers.

"He's the most genuine person," Harlander said. "The thing about Chad is you can have a conversation with him and not see him for three or six months, and he'll remember that conversation."

Greenway is preparing for his last NFL season. That makes this summer poignant. He accepted pay cuts after the 2014 and 2015 seasons, then signed a one-year deal worth $2.75 million for 2016. No one needs to pity him for making millions, but many athletes are offended by pay cuts and opt for free agency to prove their financial worth. Greenway chose to stay and play at home without complaint.

He said he plans to live in the Twin Cities and remain connected with the Vikings after this season.

As far as the 2016 season, Greenway said: "We're pumped. You have to be optimistic. If you're not optimistic at this time of year, what's the point?

"We have a good team. We're young and very talented. But you have to have a hot quarterback at the right time and put things together. So many things have to happen before we're back where we want to be.

"I'm looking forward to it. Enjoying every minute of it, really."

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at On Twitter: @SouhanStrib.