A rush for revenge? Greenfield leads North Central into playoff rematch
Ethan Greenfield never played running back until his senior year at Lakes High School.
Now the North Central College senior ranks sixth on the Division 3 all-time rushing list with 6,433 yards, and leads all of D3 in rushing yards (1,751) for the third consecutive season.
On Wednesday, he was named one of four finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, Division 3's version of the Heisman.
Meanwhile, crunchtime is about to arrive in Naperville. No. 1-ranked North Central will host a semifinal playoff game for the first time Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN-plus) against No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor, which beat North Central in last year's championship game 57-24. That was the Cardinals' only loss in their last 38 games.
The winner moves onto the national title game next weekend in Annapolis, Maryland, against either Mount Union or Wartburg.
North Central won its first national title in 2019, with Greenfield named the game's most outstanding player.
Greenfield chatted this week about the rematch against the Cardinals' rivals from Texas and the five years he's spent at North Central:
Q: What are your thoughts on last year's game against Mary Hardin-Baylor, which obviously didn't go well for North Central?
A: "We didn't feel like we played our best and it showed obviously with the score. The good thing about that is we get to learn from those mistakes. We've watched that film a bunch of times to see what we were doing or why certain things weren't successful. So we've been looking over that again.
"It rarely happens you get a second chance at something like that. Very similar teams, a lot of the same players on our side and on their side. So yeah, it's been a very exciting week."
Q: How did you end up at North Central?
A: "Like most kids, I was trying to go play Division 1, talked to a few schools like Illinois State, Western Michigan. Stuff didn't end up working out that way, then I was choosing between Mount Union and North Central.
"Everything (former North Central coach Jeff Thorne) was telling me was everything I looked for in a school; looked for the sense of family, sense of community. 'We're here to win football games and make you the best athletes, but also make you the best person by creating strong relationships with people from different backgrounds.'"
Q: How crazy is to have run for more than 3½ miles during college?
A: "I remember 2018 when I came in, I just felt like a little kid walking into a big situation. Then everything went really fast and it all happened, not just because of me. I think I'm a pretty good football player, I guess, but I'm surrounded by people who are extraordinary that make me so much better. Like my backup running back (Terrence Hill) pushes me every single day to be the best that I am. Our offensive line and tight ends and receivers block with everything they have every play to spring runs.
"We do a really good job of keeping both of us fresh. If I need a little bit of a break, Terrence goes in. It's been a lot of years, I've had a lot of miles on my legs, but I feel great and feel like I can keep playing for years and years to come."
Q: North Central is a small campus, but it's right next to downtown Naperville. What's it been like spending five years there?
A: "I lived on campus my first three years. My senior year and this year, we rent out a house in Naperville, which is a little expensive, but you get four guys in there and split it four ways, it's not that bad. There's a lot of people from the area that live at home, a lot of guys that stay in the dorms.
"For a smaller, Division 3 private school, it doesn't really feel like that. I've never felt like, 'I go to a really small school,' because of everything around it. There's always stuff going on in downtown Naperville. It never feels like there's nothing to do because there's always a lot of things to do."
Q: What are your plans when this season ends?
A: "I would like to keep playing football. Where that is, I do not know, but I would like to continue playing until my body kind of tells me it's time to be done. Then after that, I would like to get into coaching at the collegiate level, especially in the Division 3 level, with what I've seen and the special relationships that can come out of that.
"I'd 100% love to try out (for the USFL, XFL or NFL). I'm just trying to leave no regret on the table."