tampabay.com

Divergences don't impede friendship

Iowa's star linebackers are tight despite wildly different backgrounds.

By FRANK PASTOR
Published December 30, 2005


TAMPA - One likes country music, the other rap. One grew up on a farm in South Dakota and played nine-man football. The other was born in the Virgin Islands and raised in football-rich Florida. One dresses to impress. The other is more comfortable in a T-shirt and blue jeans.

To outsiders, what's most apparent about Iowa linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are their differences. But when Greenway looks at Hodge, he sees only someone who has worked hard for everything he has ever gotten.

Much like himself.

"We kind of have the same story, we just come from different spectrums," Greenway said. "We never had anything handed to us. Neither of us were very highly recruited or anything like that. But it tended to work out for us, and it's just basically the story of hard work and determination and two guys that are competitive and push each other."

It's the story of the premier linebacking tandem in the nation.

Greenway, Iowa's weakside linebacker, ranked third nationally in tackles per game (13.4). He was an All-Big Ten first-team selection and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker; and the Bednarik Trophy, given to the top defensive player.

Hodge, the nation's sixth-leading tackler (12.6 per game), was a second-team all-conference pick at middle linebacker. Both were quarterfinalists for the Lott trophy, given to the defensive player who has had the biggest impact on and off the field.

Together, Greenway and Hodge give Iowa (7-4) its most sizable edge and Florida (8-3) its biggest cause for concern entering Monday's Outback Bowl.

"Their linebackers are as good as they say," Florida coach Urban Meyer said.

They're also as different as they come.

Greenway grew up on a 1,500-acre farm in Mount Vernon, S.D. (population fewer than 500), where he helped his parents, Julie and Alan, raise 4,000 pigs and 200 cows. He developed his strong work ethic cleaning the pigs' barn, fixing fences, riding the tractor or weeding the garden when others lay by the pool.

He played quarterback and free safety and returned punts and kickoffs on the nine-man team at Mount Vernon High, which was too small for the state's 11-man divisions. Offenses lined up with two backs and a flanker, with tight ends taking the place of tackles. Defenses played 4-2 fronts with two corners and a safety behind them.

"The first time I ever played 11-man football was when I came to college," Greenway said. "It was the first I'd ever seen 11 men on a football field. I never played in an all-star game. My only Division I offer was Iowa. You basically didn't have any choices. You were going there or you didn't, and when I got there, it's not really any different. It's still about tackling and catching and running."

Greenway was recruited as an athlete and moved to linebacker shortly after arriving in Iowa City. Because he weighed 205 pounds and had never lifted weights, coaches knew he'd bulk up. His speed, good for a safety, was exceptional for a linebacker.

"They kind of saw that and I think they really thought I could take my cover skills as a safety and move them to linebacker, and it worked out perfectly," Greenway said. "I weigh 245, and I'm actually a lot faster than I was when I came here."

Hodge was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where he remembers living near the beach and eating from fruit trees. At age 7, his family moved to Atlanta (and later Fort Lauderdale) so his father could start a restaurant business.

Hodge honed his scholastic and athletic skills at Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson High, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and aSuperPrep All-American.

"Growing up, I think the competition at a young age with the programs here, I was able to compete with a lot of great players at a young age, and I think that carried on to middle school and high school and I think that carried on to college," Hodge said. "Those same things, the high competition at a high level, is still in me."

Because he played linebacker much of his life, Hodge served as a mentor until Greenway grew accustomed to the position. Despite their obvious differences, the two bonded from the time they took their campus visit together.

They share a love for football, strong work habits and an ability to lead. They compete in everything they do both on the field, where they keep track of each other's tackles, and off, where they recently graduated with communications degrees.

"They're so different in terms of their playing styles," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Chad's kind of like an unbridled colt, full of energy and just all over the place. Abdul is just a steady, by-the-numbers type of player. But they're both tremendous leaders in their own ways, and I think probably the best thing is they've just been tremendously good friends all the way through it."

They're so close, they took the opportunity to learn about each other's backgrounds. Before camp, Hodge spent some time at Greenway's parents' farm, which is 10 minutes from his brother's place.

"It was a great experience for me," Hodge said. "I'd never really been on a farm, I just drive by them and see them on the highway in Iowa.

"It was good for me to go out there and hang out with him and spend some time with his family and see his surroundings."

Greenway got a taste of big-city life when Iowa played in Miami for the 2003 Orange Bowl.

"It's just completely two different worlds," Greenway said. "But that's the beauty of America; you can come from different places and you can end up in the same place."

Even if only for a while.

After passing on the NFL to return to Iowa for their senior season, Greenway and Hodge are certain to go high in next year's draft. Unless they're taken by the same team, which is unlikely, they'll be back in different environments.

"It's been nice to know for three years we were going to get great production," Ferentz said. "They've been leaders since they were playing as sophomores, and we just have been very fortunate.

"You don't get a pair of guys like that too often."