Deep-rooted

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At home in tiny Mt. Vernon, S.D., Vikings’ draft pick Greenway is Just Chad’

MT. VERNON, S.D. (AP) – As soon as Chad Greenway pulls his truck off Interstate 90 at Exit 319, he ceases to be an All-American linebacker.

All the other labels fall away as he rolls through this one-stoplight South Dakota farming hamlet, where visitors are greeted by a tattered old white sign with blue letters that reads “Welcome to Mt. Vernon. Pop. 477” and the town is little more than a three-block cluster of buildings – most of which have seen better days.

Greenway is not the rock star he was at Iowa, where he led the Hawkeyes to two Big Ten titles in four years. Or the Next Big Thing in Minnesota, where Vikings fans have high hopes for the first-round draft pick who soon will sign a contract that brings with it the kind of riches unheard of in these parts.

He’s simply Chad, just another of the little boys who grew up working long hours on the family farm, riding a snowmobile to school in the winters and playing nine-man football because the area didn’t have enough players to field a full 11-man team.

“It’s not like if I walked into someplace in Iowa City, people would be asking for autographs,” Greenway says. “Not back home. People grew up with me, people know me. People know my family, so I’m nothing really special. I’m just Chad, who they grew up with, and I happen to be a really good football player and things worked out for the best for me. That’s what makes it kind of nice to go home.”

Driving up the dirt and gravel road to Greenway’s boyhood home, it’s easy to see why he is so comfortable here.

Cows graze in a corral near the mouth of the driveway, and the quintessential farm house – barn red with beige trim – is surrounded by a finely manicured lawn. A ferocious basset hound named Maggie keeps watch from a porch straight out of the “Bridges of Madison County” and is won over with a simple scratch of her floppy ear.

The hogs are kept in a large building behind the house, and a rented field where Alan and Julie Greenway plant soybeans, corn, wheat and alfalfa is just down the road.

It’s all a little too storybook, if you ask Greenway’s mother.

“Don’t just call us hog farmers,” Julie pleads. “Everyone (in the media) calls us that. They just take the hog-farmer thing and run with it.”

There’s plenty more to the Greenway farm than hogs. Just ask Chad, who was taught the meaning of hard work from a young age while helping his parents and two older sisters with daily chores.

“The worst time of year for me was the summer,” Greenway says. “There were no limits on how much I could work. … There was a lot of work to do in the summers and we did a lot of it, but we had fun, too. I remember getting up at 5 a.m., knowing I was going to be working until 10 p.m., no doubt. There was no sleeping till noon, that’s for sure.”

Greenway is effusive in his praise of his down-to-earth family and a hometown dripping with the stereotypical Midwestern values of hard work, humility and community.

On this warm and windy May day, Julie and Alan, who also delivers the mail, don’t even have time to come back to the house to chat with a curious visitor from the big city. They both lean on a tractor out in the field while describing the only way of life they’ve ever known.

“When you’re on the farm, you all work together,” Julie says. “That’s what you do. And everybody has to do it, or it doesn’t work.”

Chad Greenway didn’t take long to catch on.

“Nothing sticks out about him other than his work ethic,” says Bev Hoefert, Greenway’s fourth-grade teacher. “He has small-town values.”

That’s the ultimate compliment in Mt. Vernon, a town so small it needs to co-op with nearby Stickney to field an outstanding nine-man team.

A town so small that one college recruiter didn’t believe it could have spawned one of the best linebackers in the mighty Big Ten. A few years back, after Greenway already was at Iowa, an assistant from a different Big Ten school came to scout Knights coach Myron Steffen’s son.

“He’d never been to Mt. Vernon before and he’s sitting (in my classroom) with a strange look on his face and said, Coach, where’s the town? Where’s everything at?”‘ Steffen says.

When Steffen told him that Greenway grew up here and led the Knights to two state championships, the recruiter laughed.

“I actually had to show him pictures,” Steffen says with a chuckle. “He didn’t believe that he came from here. … He was like, What am I doing in this podunk town?’ And after he finally believed that Chad was from here, his whole attitude changed.”

A small adventure in itself awaits outsiders in search of Mt. Vernon School, home to the town’s K-12 students with a graduating class of 29 in 2001, Greenway’s senior year.

Many of the worn-out street signs are difficult to read.

“That’s because the kids shoot them,” Julie says with a hearty laugh.

“Gotta sight the gun in somehow,” Alan Greenway says, as a mischievous grin creeps across his rugged face and hints he may have taken a few shots himself back in the day.

“We work hard and we play hard.”

Much of the playing is done at Wermer’s Lounge and Steakhouse, one of the handful of open businesses on Main Street. Most of the town gathered there on April 29 to watch Greenway get drafted by the linebacker-starved Vikings with the 17th overall pick.

It was a landmark day not only for Greenway and his family, but for everyone in the town.

“Most people who grew up there stay there,” Greenway says. “It’s unheard of for people to grow up and leave and go far away for college, then move away for good.”

But for all the similarities that Greenway shares with his neighbors, his father always has sensed something just a little bit different in him.

“He’s always made goals that are a little higher than most,” Alan says. “He’s come a long way to get where he’s gotten.”

Adds Steffen: “Quite honestly, I don’t think anybody ever leaves Mt. Vernon, South Dakota, and you think He’s gonna be an NFL player.’ No. I was just hoping that he would have some success and enjoy his time at Iowa.”

Maybe Greenway’s success is starting to change things.

The school’s sparkling gymnasium is empty on this sunny day, except for a one-on-one basketball game between two red-faced boys who scurry about like lightning bugs trapped in a pickle jar.

Nine-year-old Bobbi Beach-Pattison slows down just long enough to introduce his friend, 11-year-old Jared Long.

“He’s going to be the second NFL player from Mt. Vernon,” Bobbi says, putting his arm on Jared’s shoulder. “I want to be the third, or the second. It doesn’t really matter to me.”

AP-ES-05-25-06 1915EDT


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