MINNEAPOLIS — Chad Greenway vividly recalls standing in front of a crowded gymnasium in Mount Vernon 15 years ago.

He was hours removed from being selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 17th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and hours away from flying to Minneapolis to embark on a pro football career that spanned 11 seasons, including a pair of Pro Bowls.

In a recent interview with the Mitchell Republic, Greenway relived his experiences and emotions of preparing for the draft and his subsequent selection by the Vikings on April 29, 2006.

It was not the phone call from the Vikings or the realization becoming a millionaire was imminent, but rather standing in front of what seemed like his entire hometown, friends and family members at the Tom Young Community Center is what Greenway recalls most fondly of his draft day.

Greenway and his wife, Jenny, were active in community outreach events in Minneapolis, Iowa and South Dakota over the years and a town of fewer than 500 people is where the son of hog and cattle farmers cultivated his devotion to community.

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“Everybody was so excited to go through it,” Greenway said. “I think that would encapsulate my childhood, growing up and being a part of that unbelievable community. Just seeing the pride that I was able to create for so many people was really fun. I just wanted to uphold that name, that love for the community when I became a professional athlete and I feel like I was able to do that during my career.”

Building his body

Greenway arrived at the University of Iowa in 2001 after leading Mount Vernon to back-to-back nine-man state championships as a quarterback and safety and was quickly shifted to linebacker.

Weighing 200 pounds as a freshman, the Hawkeyes opted to redshirt Greenway during his first collegiate season, which allowed him to add 15-20 pounds to a frame that grew to 242 pounds at the 2006 NFL combine.

“He came back (the first year) and absolutely did not have a neck,” said Curt Deinert, who worked on the Greenway family farm from 1997-2003. “The traps that he had on his shoulders were basically up to his ears and it was very noticeable how much weight he put on at Iowa.”

Finally ready to take the field for Iowa in 2002, Greenway suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the first four games. By 2003, however, he was full-time starter and was a second-team all-Big Ten honoree.

Chad Greenway was an all-Big Ten and All-American linebacker for the University of Iowa from 2002-2005. (Courtesy of University of Iowa athletics)
Chad Greenway was an all-Big Ten and All-American linebacker for the University of Iowa from 2002-2005. (Courtesy of University of Iowa athletics)

The following season, he was a first-team all-Big Ten selection and earned multiple All-American teams. Greenway’s performance as a junior in 2004 caused his draft prospects to skyrocket, bringing NFL scouts to practices and agents began making calls to his parents.

Until that time, Greenway’s NFL dreams never expanded beyond typical childhood fantasies and he never truly considered leaving Iowa early for the draft.

“I dealt with an injury off and on, and by the end of the year, it became really bad,” Greenway said. “I was having a successful season, but I knew I was not going to be able to test at the combine or a pro day and have that stuff go very well for me. Honestly, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I was happy with where I was at Iowa, having a lot of success and I knew the NFL was going to be there.”

A strange process

When Greenway began to train for the NFL combine, he opted to stay at school and train with Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle, at the time one of the best in the country.

In preparation, Greenway emphasized the drills that took place at the combine — 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, three-cone drill, vertical jump, broad jump and 225-pound bench press — rather than football-specific drills.

Greenway’s main area of concern was his 40 time, which showed pro scouts he could cover running backs and tight ends in an increasingly-pass happy league. Despite being a state-championship hurdler and triple jumper — his leap of 47 feet, 1 1/2 inches in 2000 is still a South Dakota state-meet record — he had to prove his speed and explosiveness to scouts.

“I had put the ability on tape, but they wanted to see — especially with the high picks — if what they saw on tape with my running ability could translate into the 40,” Greenway said. “I would have checked all the boxes off — good Senior Bowl, good Senior Bowl week, good senior season, good tape. But can he really run like we think he can and that was the most important thing for me.”

The combine proved to be an unenjoyable experience, however, and not simply because Greenway clocked a 4.78-second 40 time. General managers, coaches and scouts dissect players as if they were ranchers searching for a prized bull at an auction.

Not only did Greenway perform each drill, take medical and mental evaluations, but he met with representatives from all 32 NFL teams that weekend in Indianapolis. A handful of teams asked him legitimate questions, probing into his character and football acumen. Others, meanwhile, informed him they would not draft him in the first round, meeting only to avoid tipping their hand to the rest of the league.

A few weeks later In a more relaxed environment at Iowa’s pro day, Greenway lowered his 40 time to 4.6 seconds, increased his vertical jump from 33 1/2 inches to 38 and his bench-press reps from 16 to 19.

“They try to create chaos and see who can function within it,” Greenway said. “It’s not a fun four days and was probably some of the worst four days of my life. It was just miserable and it really had nothing to do with football. I had always thought the combine was super overrated, but at this point it’s a necessity with what they’ve created it to be.”

Keeping calm on draft day

Although the combine left Greenway annoyed, it left little reason to guess where he would land when draft day arrived. Five teams showed interest at the combine and he visited Cleveland, Minnesota and St. Louis afterward, never turning down an offer.

As family members and friends gathered at the Greenway family farm in Mount Vernon — where his agent Marvin Demoff personally visited to sign Greenway — he felt certain a team would call between the 13th and 17th picks based on where the teams he visited were slated to pick.

Armed with a bag full of NFL team hats just in case, Greenway was able to remain composed for most of the day.

“If you’ve ever been around him or watched him, he’s confident, he knows how to be in that moment and keep his composure, while also taking the time to take it all in,” said Lee Bollock, a Mount Vernon classmate who served as the best man in Greenway’s wedding. “I think he did the same thing that day. He lived in the moment, was confident in what was going to happen. … That’s how he does things today and how did things throughout his career.”

Across town, Wermers Lounge’s capacity was standing room only as seemingly all of Mount Vernon — and several of Deinert’s college classmates who were huge Iowa fans — gathered to see where Greenway would be taken.

Greenway admitted growing up as more of a San Francisco 49ers fan than the Vikings. But the dozens of people wearing Vikings apparel packed into Wermers and diehard fans were hoping he would stay close to home. It eventually allowed friends and family to easily travel to games and Mount Vernon frequently arranged a bus trip to Minneapolis for games.

“It just allowed so many people to stay actively involved in his career,” said Mount Vernon/Plankinton activities director Eric Denning, who coached Greenway in basketball and track. “It’s a four or five-hour drive up there and his friends could come up there to watch him play. You didn’t have to get plane tickets. It really allowed his family and friends and the state of South Dakota to come and still be a part of his career.”

The NFL did not shorten the allotted time to make first-round picks from 15 minutes to 10, a few hours passed before the Browns were on the clock with the 13th pick, the first team Greenway felt could realistically call. Cleveland ultimately selected Florida State defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and the wait continued.

Demoff called Greenway after the pick and surmised he would not fall past Minnesota at No. 17 and he proved to be correct. St. Louis selected Clemson cornerback Tye Hill at No. 15, and almost immediately after Miami’s pick at No. 16, Greenway’s phone rang.

Of course, cell phone coverage was not quite as strong in rural areas at the time and the call dropped, so the Vikings were forced to call the Greenways’ landline. Nonetheless, Greenway became the fourth South Dakotan to be selected in the first round since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, joining Sioux Falls’ Larry Jacobson (1972), Aberdeen’s George Amundson (1973) and Rapid City’s John Dutton (1974). Parkston’s Riley Reiff joined the list in 2012.

“It’s a crazy feeling to know you’re on the phone with an NFL team that just selected you and they’re going to put your card in. The deal was done,” Greenway said. “You’re off the board, you’re a professional football player and a Minnesota Viking now. It was just a wild, mind-bending experience.”

Minnesota Vikings' Chad Greenway (52) to chases a running back during the final regular season game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Minnesota Vikings' Chad Greenway (52) to chases a running back during the final regular season game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Matt Gade / Republic)

While Greenway was on the phone with the Vikings, Wermers exploded with joy when his name scrolled across the bottom of the television screen. Moments later, they gathered to see Greenway in the school gymnasium, knowing he would be a short ride away.

“He was born and raised in Mount Vernon, his parents were born and raised in Mount Vernon and his heart is in Mount Vernon,” Deinert said. “He had the whole backing of the community behind him and everyone that day felt like we were getting drafted because everyone was so invested in him.”