Khaseem Greene's success makes him perfect Rutgers football rep

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Prior to signing his letter of intent in Feb. 2008 to attend Rutgers, the lasting reminders for linebacker Khaseem Greene of what Rutgers football used to be about centered around people coming to his middle school in Elizabeth, N.J. to hand out free tickets to games.

Those were back in the days when they had to beg fans to show up for games, and anything better than a three-win season for Rutgers was considered a success. From 1996-2002, Rutgers won more than three games in a season just once.

The expectations have risen, and Greene has had a lot to do with it.

"It's taken a big-time leap to where it is now," said Greene, who will lead Rutgers on Friday against Virginia Tech (6-6) in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. "Once (former Rutgers) coach (Greg) Schiano got here and really turned the program around, and with (current) coach (Kyle) Flood now being the leader of this program and taking it to the next level, we've been able to do some things that have never been done here before."

Barely squeezing out more three wins per season doesn't cut it anymore. Rutgers (9-3) cleared more than three wins before the end of September on its way to a 7-0 start for just the fifth time in school history, and reached as high as No. 18 in the Associated Press rankings.

How much have things changed at Rutgers, which split a four-way share of the Big East Conference title? No program has a longer bowl winning streak than Rutgers' five consecutive wins.

"We don't go to the bowl game to just go and enjoy what goes on during the week," said Greene, who was named AP third-team All-American this season. "We go to the bowl games to win them."

Those are the confident words of a player whose unexpected rise to success makes him an appropriate model for the program he represents.

Coming out of Elizabeth High in New Jersey, Greene was a 6-foot-1, 195-pound safety considered a recruiting afterthought in the eyes of most big-time college programs.

Furthermore, he needed to get his grades in order, which he did by prepping at Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Conn. With Rutgers, Connecticut and Akron lined up as the only Bowl Subdivision programs to offer him scholarships, Greene decided to head back to his home state.

He wanted to play for Schiano, who coached at Rutgers for 11 seasons (seven winning) before leaving in January to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL and handing the Rutgers reins over to Flood – Schiano's offensive line coach for six seasons at Rutgers.

Greene started all 12 games in 2010 at safety for Rutgers. Prior to the start of last season, Schiano moved Greene to outside linebacker.

Greene went on to lead the Big East last season with 141 tackles. This season, while playing from the weakside linebacker spot, he again leads the conference in tackles with 125 to go along with six forced fumbles, which is second in the nation.

He's the second player in Big East history to win the conference's defensive player of the year honors in back-to-back seasons, joining former Tech defensive end Corey Moore (1998 and '99).

Greene's senior season statistics are even more impressive considering his junior season ended in the Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa State with a broken right ankle that required seven months of rehabilitation. Playing with a plate in his lower right leg, he hasn't shown any lingering effects from the injury.

"He's the biggest play-maker on our team," Rutgers defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. "He's created so many fumbles and interceptions this year, things that have changed games…He's just kind of a do-it-all kind of guy."

Greene leads a Rutgers defense that's fourth in the nation out of 120 Bowl Subdivision programs in scoring defense (14.3 points per game), 11th in rushing defense (105 yards per game) and 14th in total defense (321.3 yards per game).

There definitely appears to be a football life beyond Rutgers for Greene. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper considers him to be a possible late first round draft pick. Despite his success, Greene's approach to the game hasn't changed, nor have his expectations for his teammates.

"We really take pride in being one of the aggressive defenses in the country," said Greene, whose half-brother, Ray Graham, has gained 1,042 rushing yards this season as a senior running back at Pittsburgh.

"If you watch, we just play with relentless effort. It might be a bad play, it might be going wrong, but you won't see guys giving up on a play."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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