By Jeff Shearer
Nothing about Kevin Greene's first four years at Auburn said "Future Hall of Famer."
It's impossible to know just how many tackles Greene made during his first three seasons, because they don't keep statistics in intramurals.
That's right. The newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame played for Auburn's Army ROTC intramural football team until his fourth fall on campus when he walked on in 1983.
Even then, Greene was strictly a special teamer.
Coming back in the fall of 1984, as a fifth-year senior, no one would have guessed that Greene would end up leading the Southeastern Conference in sacks.
After all, he didn't even start until the last four games of the season.
Such is the stuff of Hollywood screenplays, and the inspiring saga of Kevin Greene.
Kevin's parents are from Choccolocco, Ala., north of Anniston.
"When you're born in Alabama, you're either born Auburn or you're born University of Alabama. One or the other and there's really nothing in between. They were born Auburn," Greene says.
"My dad was in the military. We moved every two or three years to military bases all across God's green earth," he says. "We just tried to tune into Auburn football everywhere we were. Living in Germany, we'd tune into Armed Forces Radio Network and listen to the Auburn Tigers play."
Greene says there was never any question where he and his older brother, Keith, would attend college.
Keith enrolled at Auburn in 1978 on an ROTC scholarship.
Kevin followed two years later, but not before an action-packed summer.
Walking on, and Walking Off
Two days after graduating from high school in Illinois, Greene went to Fort McClellan, Ala., for three months of training at the post's Military Police School.
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he planned to walk on at Auburn that fall.
"Two things played against me at that point," Greene says. "I could run like a deer. I ran five miles before breakfast every morning. I could do more pushups and sit-ups and jumping jacks than anybody. So I was in great military shape, but not football shape. That's the first thing that played against me."
The second thing was even more problematic.
"Auburn had already started its season. Already had training camp. Already played their first game. I ended up walking on that second week of the season because my military training carried over into the start of the season. So I was really, really behind the eight ball. I think I stayed on the team for about a week. I was so far behind I ended up walking off.
"Didn't really get any reps on the practice field. I was just on the sideline. No real reason to pursue my dream of playing Auburn football at that time," he says.
So, his first three years at Auburn, Greene played intramurals while working on his Criminal Justice degree. He completed ROTC and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Alabama Army National Guard.
His desire to play varsity football, however, never waned.
A Second Chance
In the winter of '83, Greene walked on again. He'd gained 20 pounds in three years.
Auburn went 11-1 and won its first SEC championship since 1957. Greene played on the kickoff team.
He decided to stay one more year, getting more reps on kickoff and punt coverage and slowly working his way into the starting lineup.
"I ended up starting the last four games of that year," Greene says. "Unbeknownst to me, I ended up leading the SEC in sacks with 11."
Greene received the Zeke Smith Award as Auburn's defensive player of the year in `84.
Then came a season-ending exit interview with coach Pat Dye.
"I asked him, `Do you think I have a chance to play in the NFL?'" Greene says. "And he said, `Yes, absolutely. There's a place out there somewhere for you.' That was really cool for him to say that. And that's really all the encouragement I needed.
"Next thing I knew I got drafted in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Rams," Greene says. "It was golden because I got my foot in the door. Now it was on me in training camp whether I was going to succeed or fail, and I wasn't going to fail. That wasn't even an option."
Greene's two seasons at Auburn served him well in the pros.
"Everything I learned the last two years under Pat Dye down there on the Plains," he says. "That work ethic that I learned on the practice field lasted me a lifetime in the NFL. I was moving head and shoulders, so much quicker, passing everybody in practice that training camp of 1985. I was just practicing at a whole another level than those vets. That ended up being why I made the active roster my rookie year."
The walk-on who started four games at Auburn played 15 seasons in the NFL, recording 160 sacks, third most in history behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White.
Wanted to say thnx to all for their best wishes w/ my HOF quest. What an absolute honor to be included w/ these HOF finalists! #Highhopes
-- Kevin Greene (@sackmaster91) January 9, 2016
On the eve of Super Bowl 50, in his fifth year as a finalist, Greene was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He'll be enshrined in August, joining Frank Gatski as Auburn's Hall of Famers.
"I'm quite euphoric a couple weeks removed from this thing," Greene says. "It really is humbling. It is starting to sink in. I kind of feel like I'm walking on those clouds."
Known for his diligent preparation, it's not a surprise that a speech Greene will deliver in six months is already three-fourths written.
Greene won a Super Bowl ring in 2010 coaching linebackers for Green Bay. After five seasons with the Packers, he stepped away from coaching two years ago to spend time with his children before they went to college.
"I found success in coaching just by breaking it down to the Nth degree and removing as much gray area as I possibly could," Greene says. "I provided as much clarity about the position that I could possibly provide. For me, that was a no-brainer because I developed such a good intuition about playing outside linebacker for 15 years. I could easily communicate and teach that, whether they're going to give me first-round draft choices, or free agents out of nowhere. I could communicate to them, and consequently, they were going to be better players."
During Greene's NFL playing days, he frequently returned to Auburn for sessions that would prepare him to excel in coaching.
"I made a point to come back to Auburn and visit with the linebackers and defensive ends. Coach Joe Whitt, my position coach at Auburn, asked me to come back as often as I could to talk to those young men about what it was like playing in the NFL. What it took, the work ethic, and being a student," Greene says.
"I'd show them film in the meeting rooms of different techniques that worked for me in the NFL," he says. "So I'd been coming back and doing these small little seminars for coach Whitt's linebackers, how to rush the passer, and give them little tricks of the trade. The right way to do things at that next level. Pad level, hand placement, strike point, all of the little fundamentals of the position. I've always enjoyed continuing my relationship of giving back to those fine young men playing for Auburn."
The 5 Habits of a Highly Effective Linebacker
Greene says there's no secret why he was able to play so well for so long.
"I think it just starts with the Good Lord blessing me," Greene says. "But I will also say this. A big reason why I was able to achieve the success that I did, of course I had to stay healthy, and I give that credit to the Good Lord, but my habits were right. All of my habits were spot on."
In five key areas -- workouts, practice, eating, sleeping and studying -- Greene was uncompromising.
"When I went in the weight room, I didn't joke around," he says. "I hit it hard. I did what the coaches wanted me to do and then some."
That continued on the practice field.
"I just wasn't good enough just to take off in practice during the week and then show up on game day and have a spectacular game," Greene says. "It just didn't work that way for me so I really had to practice at game-day tempo.
"My eating habits were good. I had to maintain weight around 243 or 245. I figured that was my optimum playing weight. So I couldn't get any bigger or I couldn't get any smaller," he says.
"My sleep habits were spot-on. I didn't burn the candle at both ends, so to speak. My sleep habits were really, really good. I was getting eight, 10, 12 hours of sleep a night to recover from those practices and those games," Greene says.
"And finally, I think my study habits were outstanding. I put in my time to study opponents. Offensive sets and formations, and what they liked to do, and what their tendencies were, and what they liked to run out of certain personnel groupings. Then I would have formation recognition, pre-snap, that I could pretty much almost anticipate the play based on who was in the game, and how they lined up. And that's all based off what I watched on film that previous week on my opponent," he says.
"I also studied my individual opponent. That offensive tackle. How he's going to block me. How deep the quarterback was in the pocket. I studied the game. And I think there are a lot of people out there playing professional football, but I think there are few professionals playing football."
Greene's professional approach carried him all the way from to Auburn to Canton, Ohio, one of only 303 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer