Corbin Grantham was at a camp with his dad when a particular talent caught his eye.
His father, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, is none across college football as having an aggressive style that relies on athletes willing to play with a quickness and intensity that can turn to havoc without the right pieces.
Corbin knew Jonathan Greenard could be one of those right pieces though. He told his dad to check out the linebacker. Grantham agreed with the assessment and recruited Greenard to Louisville, where the former was serving as defensive coordinator at the time.
Greenard, a Georgia native, grew up a self-professed Florida Gators fan but he wanted to play for Grantham at as a Cardinal. He spent his redshirt freshman year under the defensive coordinator before Grantham moved to Mississippi State to join Dan Mullen. The talented Greenard though continued to impress.
In his first two seasons, he tallied 9.5 sacks, 66 total tackles including 22.5 for loss, nine quarterback hurries and an interception. He was elected a captain before the 2018 season, represented the Cards at ACC Media Days and was all set for a true breakout year.
Then he suited up at Camping World Stadium, set to take on No. 2 Alabama in the season kickoff. On the first defensive series of the game, his season was over.
“I just remember going in for the kill shot. Next thing you know, I’m going for the kill shot and I’m out for the year,” recalls Greenard.
“I actually played the next play and didn’t understand what was happening at first. Next thing you know, I go to the sidelines and was out for the year.”
He sat out 2018 and then transferred, reuniting with his childhood favorite team and his first defensive coordinator. With his experience in the system and ability to marry it with natural talent, the senior immediately pushed for playtime time at the coveted BUCK position, the hybrid linebacker/defensive end.
Following the departure of Jachai Polite to the NFL, it was assumed Jeremiah Moon would get the majority of snaps at the spot. But Moon spent the spring recovering from injury and Greenard used the time to prove his value to this defense.
“Jon can play more than one spot. I mean he really can play end for us too but he gives us some size at Buck,” explains Grantham.
“He knows the system, like I've said before. He's a hard player, he's smart, he's instinctive. He's going to make some plays instinctively and he's a good leader. And he has the ability to play more than one thing to give us some flexibility that way.”
“Jon knows what he's doing,” adds defensive lineman Kyree Campbell.
“Just learning from him and how he depicts offensive linemen, like when we sit down and watch film, we'll look at offensive tackles, how they align, how they sit on their heels, how their shoulder (are). Just him being able to tell us, 'All right, this guy's going this way because he's leaning this way,' or 'This dude's about to pull because he's leaning back.' Just him having that experience is helping us, that helps the defense a lot.”
The high praise from the DC and teammates led to a lot of anticipation on how Greenard would fit in right away against Miami. Greenard though, was only concerned with two stats; a team win, and some redemption against fate.
“Just to run out there is a huge blessing to play in the same stadium I got hurt in last year...I’m not really worried about individual stats just because if the team winning, I win. So, it all helps everyone out.”
Greenard certainly did his part to help everyone out and achieve a 24-20 win.
In his first game back, the BUCK notched six total tackles, including two for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He also gave the Miami Hurricanes freshman left tackle fits all night, applying continuous pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams and helping his teammates collapse the quarterback in 10 sacks.
After the win, Greenard sat with Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks and senior receiver Josh Hammond at the post-game press conference, cementing his status as a quick leader on a veteran team. He spoke of getting better and what needed to be fixed. He spoke of the team, and how they would respond to the close game. He spoke of the redemption that came with his marquee night. And he spoke with a voice that head coach Dan Mullen and Grantham can turn to for leadership as the season continues.
“It was a sloppy game,” said Greenard.
“We're at the beginning of the season. We got a lot of things to fix and correct, but that doesn't take away from the time on this team and the drive that we have on this team. We're going to do some really good things. You know, things didn't go our way at times and we had to just put the fire out when the time was needed. But we're just going to move on from here. If teams to want to take us lightly and take this game and think we're going to apply this the rest of the year, then they're going to find out real soon that was a mistake.”
Following the first full week of college football SEC games, Greenard was named Co-SEC defensive lineman of the week. It could be the first of many as the league and the nation see what Corbin Grantham saw all those years ago.