On a February morning in 2015, Ethan Greenidge wore a Villanova University shirt as he sat between his parents, Robin and Xann, in the Riverhead High School library. Varsity football coach Leif Shay stood behind him as the cameras flashed and Greenidge officially signed to join Villanova’s football team.
He was 17 at the time, and had recently finished a three-year varsity career as one of the top lineman to come through the program, helping lead the Blue Waves to a pair of county championships.
His mother, Xann, spoke of her son’s accomplishments that morning and added: “We hope that he rises up and makes the town proud.”
Fast forward just four years and it’s safe to say Greenidge has accomplished that and more.
After graduating from Villanova with a degree in communications, Greenidge began a journey to the National Football League. On Sunday, Greenidge will be on the sidelines at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as the New Orleans Saints host the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. It’ll be a surreal moment for a young man from Flanders now living the dream as a professional football player alongside the game’s greats like Drew Brees and Michael Thomas of the Saints.
For his dedicated work ethic, commitment to excellence and incredible accomplishment to reach the NFL, Greenidge is the News-Review’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year.
“It’s been amazing, really,” Greenidge’s father, Robin, said in an interview this week. “It’s like, wow! He made it. We watch every game to see if he makes it on the field, because that’s the next step. We’re thrilled for him because this is what he wanted to achieve.”
The Greenidge house has become filled with Saints gear. The only thing missing, Robin said, is a big Saints flag out front. After all, this is still Giants and Jets territory.
Xann said it’s been great to see the outpouring of community support. During games they’ll receive texts from friends who take photos of their TVs when they see Greenidge on the sideline. “There’s so much support,” she said. “A lot of people reach out via Facebook and they’re just supportive and rooting for him and grateful they got to know him.”
A 6-foot-4, 335-pound offensive lineman, Greenidge has taken an unlikely path to an NFL roster spot this season. He went undrafted in last April’s draft, but received interest from several teams and signed as an undrafted rookie with the Saints once the draft ended. He began in rookie mini-camp, hoping to make an impression on a coaching staff tasked with building a Super Bowl contending team.
No small feat for a 21-year-old surrounded by players who all excelled at the collegiate level.
As training camp began, Greenidge impressed the coaching staff enough that even after sustaining a minor injury, his spot on the team never wavered. As training camp unfolds, NFL teams begin cutting players to ultimately trim the roster down to the final 53 players.
His parents said there was a feeling Greenidge would land on the team’s practice squad.
“Everything has been surprising for him,” Xann said. “For him, it was like ‘Wow, I didn’t expect all this.’ Everything is a little surreal for him as well.”
In late August, Greenidge learned he had made the final roster and would be joining one of the league’s top offensive line units. Still, there are no guarantees in the NFL and players can be cut at any time to make room for a new addition. As injuries started to pile up late in the season on the Saints’ offensive line, the coaches and Saints’ front office remained committed to Greenidge as a developmental player who they believe will grow into a long-term NFL player.
While teams have 53-man rosters, only 46 can dress per game. So Greenidge has been among the inactive players throughout the season and has yet to see game action. His first game in uniform came on Thanksgiving night when the Saints played the Atlanta Falcons.
“Ethan was pretty must next in line to get on the field in case someone else got hurt,” Robin said. “He was very, very nervous.”
The Saints won 26-18 and Greenidge ultimately didn’t make it on the field that night.
Greenidge has adapted well to life in New Orleans, his parents said. They went down to see the team’s first home game of the season. Xann then visited when the Saints played the Cowboys and helped Ethan move into his apartment and they recently all spent Christmas together in New Orleans.
Reflecting on their son’s journey, Robin and Xann said they would encourage younger players coming up to work hard and don’t become consumed by the expectations of reaching the pinnacle of a sport, such as the NFL.
“We’d tell kids, shoot for the stars, but have a backup plan if you can’t hit the stars,” Robin said.
It’s been an unpredictable, roller coaster journey so far, they said.
When the time comes that professional football ends, Greenidge will fall back on his Villanova degree to begin the next phase of his life.
Until then, they’ll be chanting “Who dat!” in Riverhead.
Photo caption: Ethan Greenidge, left, and second-round pick Erik McCoy walk off the field after a May practice. (Credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)