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Ethan Greenidge prepares to begin journey with New Orleans Saints

Robin Greenidge laughed when asked from whom his son Ethan inherited the massive size that will lift him into the National Football League.

“Not my side of the family,” he said. “We’re tall, but not that tall.”

The credit, he said, goes to his wife, Xann’s, side of the family. At 6-foot-4, 335 pounds, Ethan resembles his grandfather Ray.

“A lot of the people on his side of the family are small giants,” Ethan’s father said.

As a sophomore at Riverhead High School, Ethan Greenidge went through a growth spurt, shooting from 5-10 to his current height. He became a beast on the offensive and defensive lines for the Blue Waves, earning a scholarship to Villanova University, where he’s thrived for the past four years.

Through a combination of hard work, skill and smarts, the Flanders native will now get a chance to compete at the ultimate level. Saturday night, shortly after the conclusion of the NFL draft, Greenidge sifted through several offers and decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints. As an undrafted free agent, Greenidge will get a shot at earning a roster spot with the Saints, one of the top teams in the league last year.

“It’s definitely sinking in right now,” Greenidge said Monday during a phone interview from Villanova, where he’s finishing his final classes before graduation later this month. “It’s crazy.”

Greenidge will report to a rookie minicamp at some point in the next week or two and begin the process of trying to become a professional football player. While he didn’t hear his name called among the 240 picks in last week’s three-day draft, he had several teams vying for the chance to sign him once the draft concluded. He weighed the options with his agent to determine which team would give him the best chance at earning a roster spot and they settled on the Saints.

He said he was “anxious and excited” as the process unfolded Saturday with the final four rounds of the draft.

“After a while, I found when all the dust settled who really wanted me,” he said. “It was an exciting feeling for me and my family.”

He watched the draft from a dorm room at Villanova, huddled with a few teammates and family members. On Sunday he made a quick ride home to celebrate some more before returning to school.

“There was like 12 of us packed in there [Saturday] just watching the countdown to see how it went,” Robin Greenidge said.

As the draft unfolded, Ethan Greenidge heard from several teams that expressed interest in signing him as a free agent, which reduced the stress of wondering if he would be drafted. He knew the free agency option would be there. And the odds of landing a final roster spot don’t change much whether you’re a seventh-round draft pick or an undrafted free agent.

Ethan Greenidge returns an interception 45 yards for a touchdown against East Islip in 2014. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“Everything right now is almost surreal,” Robin Greenidge said. “We’re still kind of wrapping our heads around it. A kid playing high school football at Riverhead. Typically, you think of someone coming out of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, these big colleges.”

That Ethan Greenidge will have a shot at the NFL comes as no surprise to Mark Ferrante, his coach at Villanova. He said Greenidge was a “godsend” to the program and someone who contributed on the field from the moment he arrived as a 17-year-old.

Had circumstances been different, Greenidge would still have one more year at Villanova and another 12 months to grow stronger before pursuing the NFL. Players on the offensive line typically redshirt as freshmen, meaning they don’t play their first year but still maintain four years of eligibility.

Riverhead players in NFL

James Hill, Class of 1993

Played 10 games as tight end for Seattle in 2000.

Scott Mersereau, Class of 1983

Played 102 games from 1987 to 1993 with the New York Jets. He was a defensive tackle and defensive end.

Ted Wegert, Class of 1951

Played 26 games from 1955 to 1960, mostly with Philadelphia. He was a halfback.

Ed Danowski, Class of 1930

Played 71 games with the New York Giants as quarterback and halfback. He was the first Giants quarterback to win two NFL championships.

Offensive line and quarterback are two positions that often require extra development for athletes to adjust from high school to college.

“He was able to handle some things early on that maybe some other freshmen aren’t able to handle mentally and physically,” Ferrante said. “So it gave him the opportunity to go out there and play early in his career.”

Jake Prus, a senior lineman during Greenidge’s freshman season, had missed some playing time to donate bone marrow to save the life of a man suffering from a blood disease. His sacrifice opened the door for Greenidge to become a starter in his first year . He hadn’t even turned 18 when the season began. 

Most players who get drafted are 22 or 23, but Greenidge will begin his journey toward the NFL at just 21. Ferrante said Greenidge’s best years are still ahead of him as he continues to mature physically. And he believes his young age could be a benefit as teams look at him and wonder what he can become by age 23.

So what did NFL teams see in him now?

“No. 1, he has really good size,” Ferrante said. “He’s just a really good athlete. Take the size into account, but also the agility, lateral movement. He’s really good on his feet for a guy who’s 335 pounds.”

Ethan Greenidge with his brother, Jaron (from left); parents, Robin and Xann; and sister, Tori. (Courtesy photo)

Greenidge is also able to play multiple positions on the offensive line.

He said he’s not sure where exactly the Saints will try to position him.

What the Saints will get in Greenidge is a player who is a student of the game, Ferrante said. He described him as someone who watches more film and does more self-study than anyone they’ve had in the program.

“He’s someone who’s going to do the extras,” the coach said. “The things we say to him is keep doing the things that made you get to this point now.”

Greenidge played in 43 games during his four-year career at Villanova. He was a two-time selection to the CAA Football All-Conference Team. This past season he was first team all-CAA, starting 10 games.

He said he learned so much as a player during his time at Villanova. He also said the support he received from his family and friends has been overwhelming.

“It means a lot to them,” he said. “I was happy I could bring that little light into their life.”

If Greenidge doesn’t land on the Saints’ 53-man roster in late August, Ferrante believes he’ll have a strong chance of earning a spot on the practice squad.

“He’s athletic and big and smart enough to make a roster at some point,” he said.

Greenidge not only excelled in football at Riverhead, he also played basketball and threw the shot put and discus in the spring track and field season. He threw the shot put just over 50 feet as a junior in 2014. He was a two-way player at Riverhead in football, also excelling on the defensive line, and played for the Blue Waves’ county championship teams in 2012 and 2013.

“We are very proud of him and I know he will represent the Riverhead football family in the most positive way,” said Riverhead varsity coach Leif Shay.

Greenidge becomes the first Riverhead graduate to get a shot at the NFL since Miguel Maysonet, the talented running back who played at Stony Brook University. Maysonet signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after the 2013 NFL draft ended. He bounced around several teams from 2013 to 2015 and played in preseason games, but never made it onto a team’s final roster.

Top photo caption: Ethan Greenidge played four years at Villanova. (Credit: Villanova Athletics)

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