When Minnesota Vikings veteran Chad Greenway steps up to the line of scrimmage, many fellow NFL players might not realize he perfected his tackle from loading pigs and tagging calves.
“When I was a kid and we were working calves, that was before we had a chute, so you were throwing in every calf and holding each calf down,” Greenway said. “Calf for calf … it definitely can’t hurt.”
The 33-year old linebacker was drafted 17th overall by the Vikings in 2006 and has since appeared in 143 games over 11 NFL seasons. Greenway ranks fourth in team history with 1,289 career tackles, and he’s appeared in two Pro Bowls.
Greenway credits much of his success on the field from his years on the farm.
Growing up on his family farm just northwest of Mount Vernon, South Dakota, Greenway spent mornings loading pigs before school and sports. The family farrow-to-finish operation sold about 5,000 pigs per year through a confinement barn. During his high school years, the Greenway family had a finishing program, raising nursery pigs for the Pipestone System. They also ran a 300-head cow/calf operation and 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat.
Greenway and his two older sisters were also active in Mount Vernon sports. Besides leading his nine-man Mt. Vernon High School football team to back-to-back state titles as the quarterback, Greenway was a budding star in basketball, track and field, and baseball.
“It was kind of a juggling act of trying to do a bunch of things we can on the farm, whether it be loading pigs with my sisters in the morning before you go to school or what it might be you are doing, there was already a lot of activity and a lot of work to be done,” Greenway said. “It was a major way to grow up and definitely gave me a much better advantage when I went off to college to do my own thing in football. It was a definite advantage over a lot of other guys that I had that built-in ability to react to leadership, react to tasks, react to work ethic.”
After graduating from Mount Vernon in 2001, Greenway uprooted to the University of Iowa, where he played all four years for the Hawkeyes, starting in 38 of 45 games. He was a two-time first-team all-Big Ten honoree. His 416 career tackles rank fifth on the all-time Iowa tackle charts.
Greenway remains active in Iowa today, joining the University of Iowa and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to support the America Needs Farmers organization. The ANF initiative was originally launched by the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and former head coach Hayden Fry during the 1985 Farm Crisis to honor the contributions of farmers and to help bridge the connection from farm to fork. IFBF joined the initiative in 2011 to heighten the awareness of today’s diverse farms, while raising donations for Iowa food banks.
Many former farm-raised University of Iowa football players, including Greenway, have joined the program to share their farm heritage and to promote farming, not just in Iowa, but throughout the Midwest.
“For me, it is pretty easy to be part of it. It’s a great program and promotes farming in so many ways,” Greenway said. “I think it does a good job of bringing recognition to people who deserve it and obviously it is easy to promote one of the greatest professions in the world.”
Greenway and his wife, Jennifer, also give back through the Chad Greenway Lead the Way Foundation. Established in 2008, the primary focus of the charity is to provide seriously ill and physically challenged children throughout the Twin Cities with daily support and life-changing experiences.
Just this past month Greenway’s Lead the Way Foundation made a $75,000 donation to a Ronald McDonald house in Minneapolis, which covered more than 80 percent of costs to replace the site’s playground with a new, inclusive, handicap-accessible play area for young patients and their siblings.
“Over the years it has really grown much bigger than we anticipated, and we have seen it not only affect kids’ lives, but adults’ lives as well in a good way,” Greenway said. “We definitely want to strive for more within our foundation and grow that if we can. Really, our goal would be to provide foundation opportunities for our fans down the road through the Lead the Way Foundation.”
With Greenway now in his 11th season with the Vikings, some media sources have reported this is the last year for the linebacker.
“That is the question of the year,” Greenway said. “You never say never.”
No matter what the future brings for the NFL football star, his thoughts never stray far from his family and the farm.
“I mean I don’t think I would be in the position I am in now without growing up on the farm and just the values that were provided for me and the examples that were given to be my family.
His uncle Brad Greenway is one of four finalists for the National Pork Board’s America’s Pig Farmer of the Year award.
“Uncle Brad and Aunt Peggy are both incredibly passionate about our industry, and they are fearless leaders in our state promoting farming, promoting the operation they run and pork production in general,” Greenway said. “I’m very proud of those two and what they accomplished. I couldn’t think of a better family than Brad to be the U.S. face for that.”
After Greenway’s father, Alan, passed away in December 2014, his mother, Julie, took over the family farm along with one of his sisters and her husband.
“She felt when my dad passed away, in her heart, she should keep the farm going, and obviously that is her passion,” Greenway said. “My mom is such a hard worker and such a strong woman, and she kept that going on her own.”
Greenway hopes that when his football career is over, he will have more time and opportunities to come back and help with harvest in the fall, help his mother work cattle, and just be able to be back on the farm.
“It’s been hard initially to be away so much from the farm as I’ve had to, but it is nice to always get back,” Greenway said. “You never lose that edge from being out there working and just enjoying the outdoors.”