Photo by Bill Roseberry
NFL Hall of Famer and 1980 Granite City South High grad Kevin Greene returned to Granite City on Oct. 4 through the Hometown Hall of Famer program presented by Ford Motor Co. Greene presented a plaque to his alma mater to represent his 2016 Hall of Fame induction and was able to speak with the GCHS student body. His emphasis was to “dream big.”
Kevin Greene is synonymous with what Granite City represents: blue collar, hard-working, intense and tough.
So when the 1980 Granite City South High grad gets a chance to return home, he relishes it. On Oct. 4, he got that opportunity through the Hometown Hall of Famer program presented by Ford Motor Company. He met with GCHS students inside Memorial Gymnasium for a celebration to honor his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. It marked the 106th high school to become an Official High School of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Through the Hometown Hall of Famer program, he was able to present a plaque to his alma mater to represent his Hall of Fame enshrinement. Greene got an opportunity to speak with the entire Granite City High student body and emphasized for them to “dream big.”
“It’s awesome,” Greene said. “Every chance I get to come back and give back to Granite and the community and the high school is just — it tickles me to be in a position to do that. It’s fun for me to shine some of that spotlight on my old high school.”
He self-proclaimed himself to be “scatterbrained” during his days at South High. He even reminisced of once being swatted by his former positions coach Jerry McKechan for acting out in Memorial Gym.
McKechan was on hand for the ceremony, as were former coach Nick Petrillo and other community members like legendary GCHS coach Conrad “Babe” Champion, Mayor Ed Hagnauer and Superintendent Jim Greenwald, among others.
“I have great memories of playing basketball on this court, playing football out there against all the teams these kids are playing against: Edwardsville, Collinsville, Belleville East, Belleville West, O’Fallon — all that comes back really, really fast,” Greene said. “It’s really neat.”
Even though his NFL career has been over since 1999, Greene’s legend continues to grow around Granite City. Already a member of the Granite City Sports Hall of Fame, the high school’s football field now bears his name. That was an honor bestowed on the Hall of Famer earlier this year. Eventually there will be a ceremony to dedicate it, too.
“That’s awesome; who would have thunk it?” Greene said. “All the sweating and all the stuff that went on out there, the fun we had and hard work — who would have thought that years later it would be called Kevin Greene Field. It’s cool that some friends of mine and some coaches helped walk it through the process. It’s an honor.”
That honor is a reflection of not only his Hall of Fame status as an NFL player, but what he’s done for the high school over the years in the way of giving back. From purchasing mirrors for the weight room, to helping out with the band, to buying helmets and shoulder pads for the football team, Greene has always been in the shadows looking out for his Warriors.
“I think that’s the natural thing to do,” Greene said. “I think you ought to go back and try and help out when you can. You can’t do everything, but you try and do little pieces here and there and do the best you can. It’s been my honor and I’m blessed with the wherewithal to do that. It’s part of who we are.”
He still feels that connection to Granite City for the people who helped mold his career. Greene wasn’t a star with the Warriors, only earning honorable mention all-Southwestern Conference during his playing days.
He weighed 180 pounds while playing for South. It was his grit and determination that pushed him forward. He walked on at Auburn University and three years later was named NCAA Defensive Player of the Year.
Greene went on to a 15-year NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams (1985-92), Pittsburgh Steelers (1993-95), Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and San Francisco 49ers (1997). He made five Pro Bowls, three First Team All-Pro selections, was the ‘96 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1990s.
He embraces his underdog status and remembers it daily. During his speech to the GCHS student body, he stressed that “you sign your own check.”
“Walk-ons are scratching and clawing, kicking and fighting and biting for everything,” Greene said. “It’s just an attitude I was able to maintain, that chip on my shoulder throughout my career.
“All these (high school) kids are walk-ons at this point, so what are they going to do with their lives? It starts right here. How much do they want it? Drive, desire, passion, fire, love and being surrounded by good people. I was blessed to be surrounded by good people and it started here with coach Nick Petrillo and coach Jerry McKechan.”