Iowa's Shonn Greene doesn't want to say too much about his NFL future just yet. And he's tired of talking about his humble past, unloading trucks at a furniture warehouse just last year.
That leaves his present, which is a compelling story about perseverance, about a player coming out of nowhere to win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. Today, as Iowa seeks its first bowl victory in four years against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, all eyes will be on the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Greene.
"I think he's definitely an NFL-type back, because he's big," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. "He can run over people, he can block linebackers. He can do about all they're looking for. … We'll certainly be tested trying to stop Shonn Greene."
Four months ago, such praise would have seemed far-fetched. Greene showed flashes in his first two seasons at Iowa, rushing for 116 yards in his first game as a freshman, then going for 88 yards against Purdue the next season. But in two years, he totaled just 378 rushing yards, and coaches considered moving him to safety at the end of his sophomore year.
Academic issues forced him to leave school, and he spent a year at a nearby community college to get eligible again, paying the bills by loading furniture for $8 an hour at the same warehouse where Iowa and Colts star Bob Sanders once worked.
"It kept me humble, kept me hungry and motivated," Greene said. "I'm a football player, so obviously it was hard, but I did what I had to do to get back."
Since returning to Iowa, he has been unstoppable, rushing for at least 100 yards in all 12 games this season. His 1,729 yards ranked second in Division I-A, and his 6.2 yards per carry was the best among the top 10 rushers in college football. He has a year of eligibility remaining, but he's 23 and projected as high as a second-round pick should he enter the NFL draft. For now, all he will say is that he has submitted his name to the NFL's advisory board for underclassmen to gauge his draft position.
"Anybody would do that in my position," Greene said. "You want to see where you're at so you can make a decision."
Ask teammates their favorite Greene run, they talk about "the Wisconsin run," a touchdown that saw him bounce off four defenders as part of a breakout 217-yard, four-touchdown day.
Ask him his proudest game, he points to Iowa's upset of then-No. 3 and undefeated Penn State, when he had 117 yards and two touchdowns. He called it "the game of the season for us, a very big turning point," setting up a three-game win streak coming into today's game.
Greene's persistence in getting back to Iowa inspires his teammates, who see the same perseverance on the field as he sheds tacklers for yards after the first contact.
"We feed off his emotion, the way he plays, it makes us excited to be able to block for him," center Rob Bruggeman said. "His off-the-field stuff, his determination to come back, there's a lot of guys that would have quit. The way he runs, his determination, it's a lot the same way."