Oct. 16, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Shonn Greene thrives in the smash-mouth world of Big Ten grind-’em-out football. His 5-foot-11, 235-pound running back frame delivers more punishment than it receives on a typical Saturday and his comfort level soars when he’s on the field of play.
Greene, one of college football’s success stories of the 2008 season, would rather play under stadium lights than sit in front of lights from a television camera.
“People ask me to do interviews, but I’m not a big fan of them,” Greene said. “I’ve never been out to get publicity. I just want to win football games. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. The feeling of winning is overwhelming.”
The numbers compiled by Greene are approaching the overwhelming level as well. Entering the Hawkeye’s game against Wisconsin on Oct. 18, he ranks second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally with 937 rushing yards (133.9 yards per game). Greene is the only running back in the nation to gain 100 or more yards in seven consecutive games this season. Making those figures more impressive is the fact that Greene has played the entire game against only Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Michigan State.
“Gaining 100 yards in a game is a great feeling to have, but all the credit goes to my offensive line,” Greene said. “I don’t think our line, wide receivers and fullbacks get enough credit for their blocking. Sometimes I don’t even get touched until I reach the safeties.”
A native of Sicklerville, N.J., Greene was a three-time all-conference performer in high school and as a senior at Milford (Conn.) Academy, rushed for 1,274 yards. The initial time Greene set foot on the Kinnick Stadium turf for game day in 2005, he notched the first of his 100-yard efforts with 116 on 18 carries and a touchdown during a 56-0 win against Ball State. Greene became the first Hawkeye true freshman to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Tony Stewart (102 yards) 18 years earlier.
It would be 21 games and nearly three years before he would produce another 100-yard performance — and they haven’t stopped since. This season Greene gained 109 yards against Maine, 130 against Florida International, 120 against Iowa State, 147 at Pittsburgh, a career-high 159 against Northwestern, 157 at Michigan State and last week picked up 115 yards on 23 attempts at Indiana.
“Gaining 100 yards in a game is a great feeling to have, but all the credit goes to my offensive line. I don’t think our line, wide receivers and fullbacks get enough credit for their blocking. Sometimes I don’t even get touched until I reach the safeties.”
UI running back
The road back to the Hawkeyes was a long one for Greene, with plenty of life lessons learned along the way. Following the 2006 season, he left the University of Iowa to attend Kirkwood Community College and boost his grade-point average. He passed the time by working out on his own and making deliveries for McGregors Furniture in Coralville.
“To tell you the truth, it was so satisfying being back on the team and back playing the game of football,” Greene said. “The game of football is very important to me. I’ve been playing it since I was six years old and not having that for a year made me want to focus on my grades and the books so I could come back.”
The Hawkeyes won their first three games of the season and are currently 4-3 after defeating Indiana 45-9 on Oct. 11 in Bloomington. Greene’s impact shows up on the field, on the scoreboard and in the final box score. Last season Iowa averaged 126.2 rushing yards per game. With Greene carrying the bulk of the load this fall, the Hawkeyes are averaging 60.8 more yards on the ground than in 2007 (187.0). Controlling the game clock is a natural by-product of a solid rushing attack. In 2007, Iowa maintained possession for 28-minutes, 47-seconds of a 60-minute game. This season the Hawkeyes have held the ball for 32:01, an improvement of 3:14 per game.
“Most people would call me a physical back,” Greene said. “I like to refer to myself as a positive-yardage back. I run North-South and put my feet on the ground and see how many yards I can gain.”
You could sense the anticipation by UI head coach Kirk Ferentz over Greene’s return at the team’s preseason media day Aug. 5.
“Shonn has worked hard and his attitude has been great,” Ferentz said. “He’s a mature guy — not a 15-year old and he looks that way. We’re really excited about getting him back and really optimistic that he’s going to have a good season.”
Because of his impressive start to the year, whether Greene likes it or not, the spotlight is beginning to tilt his direction. At a recent media conference, Ferentz was asked if he thought Greene should be considered for the Heisman Trophy.
“I’m not worldly enough to talk about that. I just know he’s playing pretty well for Iowa, I know that, and I’m happy about that. I don’t know where he ranks with everybody else, but he’s playing pretty well — not pretty well, very well.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
“I’m not worldly enough to talk about that,” Ferentz said. “I just know he’s playing pretty well for Iowa, I know that, and I’m happy about that. I don’t know where he ranks with everybody else, but he’s playing pretty well — not pretty well, very well.”
Greene was even quicker to deflect the Heisman hype.
“I don’t even think my name should be in that category,” he said. “If anything, I think my linemen should be in that category.”
Starting up front for Iowa’s offense are seniors Rob Bruggeman (center) and Seth Olsen (right guard), juniors Kyle Calloway (right tackle) and Rafael Eubanks (left guard) and sophomores Bryan Bulaga (left tackle) and Julian Vandervelde (left guard). During August two-a-days, Ferentz realized that the Iowa running game would see an upgrade and the same was true at the offensive line positions.
“It started at camp, and competition has been good,” Ferentz said. “It’s still pretty good. We still have some guys battling for playing time and we’ve got some guys who are improving right now behind the scenes as back-ups. I think those guys are moving in the right direction and they’re doing a good job.”
Greene is one of a long line of productive Hawkeyes from the state of New Jersey. He joins the likes of Andre Tippett, Leroy Smith, Mike Devlin, Danan Hughes, Albert Young and Stewart.
“When I visited Iowa I had a great time and the coaches and people were very nice,” Greene said. “It was a great atmosphere. I also talked with Albert about it since we were both from South Jersey.”
Greene, who wanted to venture away from his home state, also played high school football with defensive back Khaliq Price, who was a member of the Hawkeye football team. With a renewed vigor towards academics, Greene is pursuing a degree in sociology, where he said the potential is “so wide open and you can go into so many different aspects of sociology” when he obtains a degree.
For now, Greene is more comfortable talking about a future in sociology, rather than a future in the National Football League. Prior to the 2008 season, there were 30 former Iowa players active in the NFL.
“I’m focused on the rest of our season,” Greene said. “I’m here to play football and this is a tough level. You have to love this game. I want to finish this season strong and make a bowl game. That’s a big goal and you always want to make a bowl game.”
There is still plenty to learn and plenty to accomplish for Greene at Iowa. He said he is becoming a more patient runner while blocks are being set up and that he has a passion for competition.
“I love to compete and I love the competitive part of the game,” he said. “It’s fun to compete in the Big Ten Conference.”
After all, the Big Ten has a reputation for being a physical league. That makes a perfect fit for a physical, smash-mouth running back like Greene.