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Greene's road to Jets: From warehouse to workhorse

Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets

Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets runs for a 39-yard touchdown in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals. (January 9, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

McGregors is an Iowa mainstay, a family-owned furniture store that has been doing business there since 1896. Yet with the way Jets rookie Shonn Greene has been playing this postseason, they might as well change their slogan to, "Producing NFL players since 2010!"

Three years ago, in a story line twist straight out of a Hollywood script, Greene's football career was at a crossroads. His poor grades made him academically ineligible for his junior year at Iowa, forcing him to take action by himself. Academically, and financially.

So while he took classes at a local community college, he made a living working an $8-an-hour part-time warehouse job at McGregors. That decision, though, came with a humbling price.

"The Iowa Hawkeyes are a huge deal in Iowa City, and everybody knows them," said Erin McGregor, a fourth-generation McGregor family member who is the chain's operations manager. "So of course everybody knew about him, knew of his story."

The player who was supposed to be the team's running back was working in the warehouse, unloading trucks or loading customer's minivans with sofas. When people asked him if he was Shonn Greene, he said no.

One time Calvin Taylor, Greene's supervisor, noticed that scene take place. The customer, he said, looked at Greene funny, as if the customer knew Greene was lying.

"After the customer left, I asked him, 'Why didn't you let him know you're Shonn Greene?' " Taylor said. "He said, 'I just want to do my job.' "

The people at this McGregors have seen football players come through. More than a handful over the years have spent their summers unloading furniture trucks for extra cash, warehouse manager Rebecca Fried said.

But they never saw someone like Greene, so determined to recapture his old life.

"He didn't want to talk about Iowa football at the time because he wasn't there, obviously," said Fried, who hired him. "He wasn't where he wanted to be. You could tell he knew what he wanted, and that he was working it out, working through it. He was very focused."

Fried said she was unaware of his situation when she hired him. But everyone else knew.

"When he first came in, we all knew the situation," Taylor said. "We had the radio on and about 10 minutes after he came in and they started ripping him apart on the radio. There was just awkward silence. No one wanted to make any comments. Everybody was just looking around."

Last week Greene called his six-month tenure at McGregors a "humbling experience," because it showed him firsthand how quickly he could lose everything if he messed up academically.

It's to his credit that he understood and accepted the situation so quickly; co-workers said he was too focused on making everything right to be bitter about what happened.

A year later, in the fall of 2008, Greene announced his return to college football by setting Iowa's single-season rushing record with 1,850 yards.

And now, with 263 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Jets' first two playoff games, the rookie is stamping his arrival on the NFL stage.

To the people at McGregors, where Taylor said "he was one of the fellas, eating lunch and talking family," watching his rise to fame has been a surreal experience for the employees.

Added Fried, "It's our own 'Rudy' story."

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