Bears rookie Khaseem Greene living NFL dream
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org May 11, 2013 12:48AM
Linebacker Khaseem Greene takes part in drills during the Bears’ rookie minicamp Friday at Halas Hall. The Bears selected Greene in the fourth round last month. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 13, 2013 7:04PM
A few years ago, move-in day for Rutgers teammates Khaseem Greene and Eric LeGrand turned into wreck-it day. A narrow driveway was to blame.
LeGrand thought he could navigate his car through in reverse. Greene disagreed. Either way, damage followed.
‘‘I started driving, and I scraped off one of the side mirrors,’’ LeGrand said. ‘‘[Greene] starts laughing. We start laughing. And then I move forward and knock off my other side mirror. And as I reached to grab that one, I go forward and run over the other one that I had knocked off.’’
What happened next?
‘‘We were just cracking up, laughing in the car the whole time, until I turned around in the back and went out the way I was supposed to,’’ LeGrand said.
It was two friends having fun in a less-than-ideal situation. They were moving into their new off-campus home with teammate Devon Watkis as they prepared for another football season. It’s a moment they still laugh about today, even though their careers have gone down different paths since.
LeGrand is a former defensive lineman who was paralyzed while making a tackle on a kickoff against Army in October 2010. His story has become one of national inspiration, and his ‘‘Believe’’ mantra became prevalent in stadiums, on bracelets and on signs.
Greene, an outside linebacker, was the Bears’ fourth-round-pick in the draft last month. His story as an NFL player is just beginning, but LeGrand’s ‘‘Believe’’ motto and initials are tattooed on his calf.
‘‘I’m proud of him,’’ said LeGrand, who was part of the same Rutgers recruiting class. ‘‘The Bears got a steal with him in that fourth round. He’s going to be a player for a long time. I truly believe that.’’
Staying in line
Greene, 24, comes to Chicago with perspective. There was seeing LeGrand get hurt, and there was the life he had lived before that.
Greene’s father, ‘‘Big’’ Ray Graham, was a running back at Purdue, but his career was cut short by an ailment. After that came multiple stints in prison.
‘‘He’s been all over,’’ Greene said.
Greene often would visit his father in prison — sometimes after he got into trouble at school or home — and get an earful. Greene said his father would use his situation as a positive. He became the example not to follow. His father wanted Greene and his siblings ‘‘to be better than him and to go on and achieve whatever our life goals were,’’ Greene said.
The visits stuck with Greene. He managed to stay out of serious trouble in crime-plagued Elizabeth, N.J., and received a scholarship from Rutgers after a solid high school career.
Greene also was a father figure as the oldest of 12 siblings — Greene’s mom had six children, including him, and his father’s future wife also had six — and it was a responsibility he took seriously.
‘‘Everybody is looking at you for right and wrong,’’ said Greene, whose half-brother Ray Graham played at Pittsburgh and just joined the Houston Texans. ‘‘It was an incredible responsibility. I always had to be that man of the house and the influence for my younger brothers and sisters. We couldn’t be products of our environment.’’
His father and mother are now out of that environment, too. Both have moved out of Elizabeth with their families. His father even
was able to be part of Greene’s draft process.
‘‘It was a blessing to have my dad in my corner,’’ Greene said.
Greene had dinner with LeGrand not long before he reported to rookie minicamp. In a way, it was a personal sendoff.
‘‘I’ll probably get the chills [at his first game],’’ said LeGrand, a motivational speaker and a radio broadcaster for Rutgers football. ‘‘That’s my boy and everything. I feel happy for him from where he’s come from to get to where he is today.’’
Greene, meanwhile, looks at LeGrand and sees no excuses for himself. He has seen LeGrand suffer a freak injury and be strapped to a hospital bed. He has seen him go through a demanding rehabilitation.
‘‘He’s always checking up on me,’’ LeGrand said. ‘‘He’s still always there in my corner.’’
But Greene also has seen his friend become a national story that has inspired millions. He has seen pain become triumph. He sees a man determined to walk again.
‘‘He would give anything to be in my position, to be in the NFL, backing up whomever, playing special teams,’’ Greene said. ‘‘To hug his mom or his sister, he would give anything to do that. He doesn’t complain about that at all. You never see Eric down. He’s always smiling and trying to put a smile on other people’s faces. It’s just amazing to see his outlook on life now.’’
Greene described the experience as ‘‘humbling’’ and called it ‘‘fuel’’ for him as a person.
‘‘There’s no reason for me, being as close as I am to Eric, to ever be down about anything, to ever feel like I can’t do something and I won’t do something and for me to be lazy,’’ Greene said.
On the field, Greene blossomed into a star linebacker at Rutgers. He was the Big East defensive player of the year twice and forced an NCAA-record 15 fumbles in his career, something the Bears absolutely love.
But there’s no sense of contentment. There can’t be. Greene has seen and been through too much to stop now.
‘‘It’s just starting,’’ Greene said. ‘‘My dream was to get drafted, but that wasn’t the gist of my dream. I also want to be a Pro Bowl player and go down as one of the greatest. That’s just me. That’s how I’ve always approached situations.’’