Howe: Greene Running His Way to NFL

Shonn Greene came into the season just wanting to contribute to the team. He has and then some. His 217 yards in Saturday's 38-16 win against Wisconsin moved him closer to the school's single-season rushing record. It also moved him closer to the NFL. columnists Rob Howe says enjoy him while you can, Hawkeye Fans, because come season's end, he gone.

In honor of Chicago White Sox announcer "Hawk" Harrelson, we use one of his famous catchphrases in describing Shonn Greene's future with Iowa beyond this year – "He Gone."

The Hawkeyes' running back will retain a year of eligibility at season's end. He won't use it. He's too good.

While there's always a chance Greene returns to college in 2009, too many factors point to him entering the NFL draft. He's putting together a campaign that will have him in the Heisman Trophy discussion and he'll turn 24 in August. Those are two big ones.

Dallas Clark left before exhausting his eligibility. So did Fred Russell. Why? They were approaching their mid-20s and there was nothing left to prove at this level.

Greene has arrived at that point. He's rushed for 100-plus yards in each of Iowa's first eight games. He's one of only two players (UConn's Donald Brown) in the country to pass the century mark in each of their team's contests.

The opposition has stacked the box since the start of the season, and Greene has mocked their efforts. Wisconsin was the last opponent to try it when it loaded up on Saturday. The Iowa running back rambled, spun and glided to a career-high 217 yards and four touchdowns and 25 carries.

While Greene has done most of his damage by running through and over people this fall, he showcased his elusiveness and speed on Saturday. His 52-yard sprint to the end zone dropped a lot of jaws in Kinnick Stadium and undoubtedly opened a lot of eyes across the nation.

The only reason Greene hasn't made a bigger splash on a national basis to this point is because his team lost three in a row and he entered the fall as a relative unknown. The 5-foot-11, 235-pounder sat out last season with academic issues. He was working at a furniture store and out of shape.

The runs Greene ripped off on Saturday will be on every T.V. highlight show. His name will surface in the Heisman talk this week. Make no mistake, he's a long shot at best, but being in the discussion surely will get the attention of more pro scouts.

Greene is enjoying a season that Iowa needed to be successful when you consider he's playing behind a first-year starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi. His 1,154 rushing yards put him on pace to break the school's single-season record set by Tavian Banks. He's averaging a robust 6.5 yards per carry.

Sure, Greene could drop off here in the final four regular-season games and fall out of a chance to play in the NFL next season. It's not going to happen. In addition to the toughness and determination with which he runs, his mind and attitude are right.

Greene hasn't talked about his accomplishments this season without giving credit to his teammates. And nobody took the three-game losing streak any harder than him.

"I don't know about all of that," Greene said on Saturday when asked about the Heisman talk. "I don't like to talk about stuff like that. We still have games to play. That's focusing on the individual. We're about the team over here."

He sounded a lot like his head coach, Kirk Ferentz, when he was asked about the Heisman conversation.

"It's premature," Ferentz said. "I said earlier, I'm hardly worldly. I don't even know who else is in contention. I'm not saying our guy is, but it's like Brad Banks. Nobody knew who Brad Banks was in August, and he finishes second on a close ballot. He did it because he played well for 12 games. That's how you win awards."

That's what coaches and players should say, especially with the way things have gone at Iowa the last few years. There's no doubt that members of this team are playing for each other, something that might have been missing of late.

Greene showed his willingness to be a team player early on in his career. He moved to safety for the 2006 Alamo Bowl.

"That was a short-lived experiment, huh?" Ferentz said. "It's like having Dallas Clark as a third-team outside linebacker. That ranks right up there. We figured that out."

Iowa's offensive line deserves a lot of credit for Greene's success. It opens the holes to get him rolling. He praises his blockers, including the wide receivers, every chance he gets.

While the NFL scouts consider that, they also understand when a back possesses keen natural ability. Much of what Greene does is based on instinct. He knows when to lower his head, when to zig and zag, and when to spin.

"It just comes on the field," he said. "I don't ever decide in my mind what I'm going to do. My body just kind of does what it does. I try to read openings and from there on it's whatever happens."

When the Big Ten statistics come out on Sunday, they will show Greene still trailing Michigan State's Javon Ringer among the league's rushing leaders. And while Ringer has shown some serious durability, Greene is having a better season.

The conference boasts a lot of good backs. Chris Wells, Tyrell Sutton, Evan Royster, P.J. Hill and Kory Sheets can all claim to be the best on any given day. Greene is better than all of them this fall. And he seems to be getting better every week.

"I'd be surprised if he wasn't in the (Heisman) discussion," Iowa reserve running back Paki O'Meara said. "As a team, it's something we don't look at at all. We're just out here playing. And I'm sure he's not worried about it either. He's just going week by week."

And you, Hawkeye fans, should enjoy them. You have, at most, five more weeks with Greene donning the black and gold for game day. He's running himself right into the NFL.

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