Iowa's RB Shonn Greene rumbles into Heisman race
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The nation's most unlikely Heisman Trophy candidate spent last season hauling couches and mattresses for a furniture store down the road from Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa running back Shonn Greene wasn't breaking his back for the workout. He needed the money.
Greene had lost his free ride with the Hawkeyes because he wasn't cutting it in the classroom, landing at nearby Kirkwood Community College -- which didn't even have a football team -- so he could get his academics straightened out. Since rent and tuition weren't going to pay themselves, Greene decided to put his 5-foot-11, 235-pound frame to good use.
It was there that Greene realized that he'd much rather bowl over opposing linebackers than load Lay-Z-Boys into minivans.
"It wasn't a pleasant feeling. It motivated me," Greene said. "It was something I had to do to get back to school and get back to playing."
The rest of the Big Ten wishes he hadn't.
Greene, a 23-year old junior who had just 69 carries in his first two seasons, has blossomed into one of the nation's top running backs.
He's rushed for at least 100 yards in eight straight games, becoming the first Iowa player to do so, and he ranks third in the nation with 144.2 yards per game.
Greene has done it all with remarkable consistency. He's averaged 6.5 yards per carry against non-conference opponents and 6.5 yards per carry in Big Ten play, a total good for second-best in the country.
"He's big, strong and powerful, and he's faster than you think," Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe said.
Greene started to get noticed when he outplayed Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy and Michigan State's Javon Ringer in head-to-head matchups. But it was his performance against Wisconsin on Oct. 18 that put him on most people's Heisman radar.
Greene rushed for 217 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-16 win, including a 34-yard score that served as a textbook example of Greene's power, speed and footwork.
Green snuck through a pair of holes at the line, juked a defender out of his shoes in the open field, shook off another from behind like he wasn't even there, used a cutback to get past a third and sprinted past a fourth for the score.
"We told Shonn before he went out there, 'We're going to run this play, and you're probably going to have to make the last five guys miss.' He said he was fine with that," O'Keefe joked. "It was pretty special."
The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) have needed every bit of Greene's dazzling play.
While Greene was working to get back into the program, Iowa's offense couldn't get out of its own way. The Hawkeyes finished 92nd in the nation in rushing offense and No. 94 in passing offense in 2007, en route to a disappointing 6-6 record.
Iowa's coaching staff spent the first four games of this season deciding between quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen. They eventually went with Stanzi, a sophomore, and figured they'd have to take their lumps with a young quarterback.
With defenses worried about Greene, Stanzi's life has become much easier. Iowa lost its first two games after naming Stanzi the starter -- including a 22-17 home defeat to Northwestern in which Greene missed much of the fourth quarter with a head injury -- but the Hawkeyes have come alive the past two weeks.
Iowa, which plays at Illinois on Saturday, scored 83 points in wins at Indiana and over the Badgers, climbing out of the Big Ten cellar and reviving hopes of a strong bowl bid.
I don't think they lean on me, or put the pressure on me," Greene said. "I take great pride that they count on me."
Greene is reticent to boast of his own accomplishments or even talk about the Heisman, but Iowa's student body isn't. They've started a movement to make Iowa's home game at No. 3 Penn State on Nov. 8 a "Greene Out" in hopes of getting the word out about Greene, complete with a Facebook group that already has nearly 4,000 members.
Don't expect the Hawkeyes to launch a cheesy publicity campaign for Greene, because that's just not coach Kirk Ferentz's way.
But if Greene keeps it up, they figure they won't have to.
"I don't think that's his goal when he plays. He's just out there trying to be as good a football player as he can be and help our team, and his attitude has been outstanding," Ferentz said. "Anyone who has seen him play knows that the numbers speak for themselves."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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