Posted by: marcmwm | October 17, 2008

The Greene Mile

October 17. 2008 8:59PM

Iowa back took unpaved road to prominence

By Marc Morehouse

(Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Shonn Greene celebrates his touchdown in the third quarter against Ball State in 2005 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Greene rushed for 116 yards that day in his Hawkeye debut as a true freshman.

IOWA CITY — Last weekend, Shonn Greene rushed for 115 yards. He’s arguably the hottest running back in the Big Ten. Iowa fans are already sweating his passing on his senior season and going pro.

So how did we get here?

Greene’s first appearance in The Gazette read pretty well. The date was Dec. 16, 2003: “Greene, who is 5-11 1/2 and 200 pounds, rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in three seasons as a starter at Winslow Township (N.J.) High School. Greene was second-team all-Philadelphia metro last season behind Iowa freshman Albert Young and picked the Hawkeyes over offers from Wisconsin and Clemson.”

Then, a wrong turn Aug. 7, 2004: “Shonn Greene, a running back from Sicklerville, N.J., won’t be joining the Iowa football program when the Hawkeyes report for fall practice, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz announced Friday.”

Later that month, it was off to Milford Academy, a prep school in Connecticut, to take care of academics. Milford, now located in New York, is a prep school that serves as a finishing school of sorts for male high school seniors and postgraduate athletes. Unlike junior colleges, players who go the prep school route don’t lose NCAA eligibility.

“Shonn has been here three weeks,” Milford Coach Bill Chaplick said at the time. “He’s a top 25 running back. He has a great work ethic.”

In September, there was this progress report on Greene from Chaplick, “He’s a good kid, good student, good football player. I’ve had seven I-A backs here and he’s right at the top of the list with (former Hawkeye) Freddy Russell. He’s of that caliber. He’s a man, he’s responsible and on time. They’re getting a great kid.”

Greene left Milford in January 2005 but didn’t enroll at Iowa. Instead, he worked out with a personal trainer in New Jersey. Between Winslow and the end of Milford, Greene put on nearly 30 pounds.

“He weighed about 225 for me,” Chaplick said for a story March 30, 2005. “Nobody caught him from behind, either. He’s a stud.”

Greene rushed 183 times for 1,332 yards, a 7.3 average, and scored 15 TDs at Milford. He caught six passes for 126 yards.

“I learned a lot about myself this year,” Greene said in that March 30 story. “I spent the year away from home. I’m ready for Division I.”

The spring ’05 media guide listed Greene at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. That was an old weight.

“At Milford, I just started eating and lifting,” Greene said then. “When I got home, I’ve kept that up. I’ve just been working out hard.”

Greene said 225 was a comfortable weight for him. Chaplick said Greene is a bigger, more physical version of Russell, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher for the Hawkeyes who Chaplick coached at Milford.

“I haven’t really talked weight with the Iowa coaches,” Greene said as he was about to re-enter Iowa in 2005. “Last time we talked, I was about 210. They said, as long as I can carry the ball, I’ll be fine.”

When Greene finally officially arrived in ’05, the Hawkeyes were coming off a season when they lost four running backs to injuries and were down to walk-on Sam Brownlee.

“Nobody is really talking about playing time,” Greene said at 2005 media day. “I know I haven’t said anything. I’m just looking forward to listening and learning as much as I can, so if maybe it does come to that point, I’ll be able to put up.”

Coming out of ’05 camp, Greene was in the mix with Albert Young, Marques Simmons and Marcus Schnoor. He made quite an impression in camp. Quarterback Drew Tate described him as a “thick guy.”

Ferentz said Greene is probably the biggest, strongest runner Iowa has had in his then-six seasons.

“I was a little concerned a year ago when I heard he was heavier at Milford, I wasn’t sure that was a good weight,” Ferentz said. “It looks like he’s pretty good.”

Said Young, “He’ll break your bones.”

Schnoor’s statement turned out to be true, just three years too early.

“Shonn is going to be an unbelievable athlete,” Schnoor said. “He’s huge and fast — maybe the fastest running back we have. He’s young and doesn’t know the system yet, but with development he’ll be a freak.”

In his first game as a Hawkeye, Greene gained 116 yards and scored a touchdown on 18 carries, becoming the first freshman to gain 100 yards in a game since 1987.

In 2006, Greene injured a knee and even flirted with a switch to defense. Then on June 7, 2007, Iowa issued a release saying Greene “will not be with the Hawkeye squad next fall.” When reached for comment, Greene said he couldn’t talk about it.

This sent Greene on a life Odyssey that usually spells doom for a college athlete. He had to study his way back into school. He also had to pay his own freight. So he worked on his grades on the Kirkwood Community College campus in Iowa City. He moved furniture at McGregor’s Furniture in Iowa City.

During the 2007 Big Ten media days, Ferentz said Greene was staying close to the program, working on his academics and eyed a return to the team in 2008.

Now, we’re in 2008. And Greene is back with the Hawkeyes.

During camp, he said football drove him to return.

“Football, basically,” he said. “I love football. That’s my life right there. Without football, I didn’t even know what else I was going to do. That’s all I wanted to do is play football, so basically football and then watching the guys last season on TV. I used to be at work and I’d see them on the screen playing, so that was good motivation, too.”

Last Saturday, Greene, 23, sat with ice wrapped around his ankle and talked about his offensive line. He laughed about riding the stationary bike on the sidelines.

“This is a great blessing, a great blessing,” he said. “God blessed me to be able to get back here and play the great game of football, which I love. I think it’s nothing but a blessing.”

n Contact the writer: (319) 398-8256 or


** FILE ** In this Sept. 20, 2008 file photo, Iowa running back Shonn Greene runs against Pittsburgh during the NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh. Greene is expected to play Saturday when the Hawkeyes face Michigan State. Greene suffered a head injury early in the fourth quarter of last week’s 22-17 loss against Northwestern and did not return. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)


  1. When are we going to get a update on the latest hawkeye football player getting arrested?????

  2. Nice article, Marc. With all the stories about the off-the-field problems with the football program, it’s nice to hear about a player who’s used football as a privilege instead of a right.

  3. Stew,

    Sorry, yesterday was my one day a week off. I heard about this when I was in the Maquoketa River fishing.

    But The Gazette was certainly on top of the James Ferentz story (gonna be a national headline, soon).

    And then columnist Mike Hlas had a take.

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