Running Down a Dream

Running Down a Dream

“This is every kid’s dream in Canada, other than playing hockey.”

Kingston Ontario’s Cory Greenwood is proof that athleticism, not where you learned to play football, is the most important factor in making an NFL team. After a four-year CIS career at Concordia (highlighted by defensive player of the year honours in 2009), Greenwood was drafted by the CFL Argonauts yet chose to pursue his career in the NFL.

Detroit News reporter Chris McCosky recently sat down with Greenwood, who, after making the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2010, is now competing for a roster spot with the Detroit Lions. The following excerpts are from his interview, as it appeared in the Detroit News on June 10, 2013:

“I always thought I could play down here,” he said. “Even before college I wanted to come down here and play Division I. I had offers, too.”

Connecticut, Tulsa and Buffalo were among those that recruited Greenwood, but the logistics of transferring high school credits from the Canadian educational system to the U.S. didn’t work out.

“In Canada we don’t do SATs, we just use our high school scores,” he said. “I had to get a tutor and do the SAT test and I came up 20 points short.”

Greenwood scored well above average, though, at the CFL scouting combine and that eventually got him an invitation as an undrafted rookie to the Chiefs training camp in 2010. He not only won a roster spot — becoming just the 24th player from Canada’s collegiate system to play in the NFL — he spent three seasons in Kansas City and became one of the leaders on special teams.

“When I first came down, I had never played 11-man football,” Greenwood said, explaining the Canadian game is 12-on-12. “The only thing that transferred from college was special teams. If you run fast, go down and tackle or block and you don’t mind contact, that’s what transferred over.”

He steadily improved as a linebacker, as well, though he was playing out of position as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

“I think I fit better in this (4-3) defense, learning both outside linebacker positions,” he said. “I’ve only been in it for four weeks, but I can tell it’s going to be a lot easier for me.”

Here’s what he’s facing, as the Lions commence their three-day mandatory minicamp today. The Lions typically keep six linebackers, and barring some unforeseen occurrence, five of the spots are taken with Tulloch, DeAndre Levy, Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis.

The Lions also drafted an outside linebacker and special teams player in the seventh round, Brandon Hepburn. In the mix, too, are Carmen Messina, who spent last season on the practice squad, and undrafted rookies Alex Elkins and Jon Morgan.

Greenwood is 27 and physically well ahead of Hepburn, Messina and the two rookies. He signed a four-year extension worth $2.75 million, with a $25,000 signing bonus, with the Chiefs three months before he was released.

Those numbers remain on the Lions’ books, which could work against him. If Greenwood doesn’t win the sixth spot cleanly, the tiebreaker could go to the least expensive player.

Greenwood, though, remains ever-confident.

“This is a great situation,” he said. “I am only six hours away from my home so my family and friends are jacked up. I am close enough that I can drive home on weekends (during training camp). This is a great group. You can see the pieces coming together. We are going to cover kicks better; I know they had some struggles with that last season. I love that they signed (special teamer) Montell Owens — he’s a beast.

“But the coaching staff here is great and guys are really working. You can tell that last year (4-12) was tough on them, and everybody seems like they are on a mission to get things turned back around. I want to be a part of that.”

Greenwood is just three games of service away from becoming a vested NFL veteran, which means he would qualify for a monthly NFL pension once he turns 55. In between now and then, the Argos are still keeping a light on for him.

Argos general manager Jim Barker told the Canadian Press recently, “I want him to exhaust all of his NFL options and do what’s best for him. When he comes here, we want him to be committed and excited about being here and turn the page. We don’t want him thinking, ‘If I had just waited a little bit longer.’ ”