Greenstone playing big for defensive line
Sept. 20, 2008
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The football team is battling harder than ever for a bowl game this season. Virtually every Commodore player wears D.W.I.T. (Do Whatever It Takes) wristbands distributed by team captains as a reminder to leave every effort on the field.
T.J. Greenstone plays for yet another reason.
The redshirt freshman defensive tackle from Lawrenceville, Ga., pays tribute to Jarrett Boston, a former best friend and classmate at Collins Hills High School who died in 2006 after a long struggle with melanoma as a high school junior.
"I wear an undershirt, it's just a small cut-off shirt with "Strive for Strength" on it, for him," said Greenstone. "I'm out there playing for Jarrett, keeping him in mind and just playing for his family."
From the moment Greenstone arrived on the Vanderbilt campus, he has done everything in his power to contribute on the Commodore defensive line. His continuous focus on gaining weight and strength, improving footwork and practicing with intensity has paid off.
"T.J. is a tough-nosed player, a guy with a tremendous attitude and a tremendous work ethic," Head Coach Bobby Johnson said. "He's one of those guys that intends to get better every time he goes out to the practice field and it definitely shows. He's the type of young man every coach wants to coach."
So far, Greenstone has contributed five tackles to the Commodore defense. Half of his tackles have resulted in opponent losses. In Vanderbilt's first Southeastern Conference against South Carolina, Greenstone was in the starting lineup.
"My first game (at Miami) I was in front of a lot of family, and I had a big fourth-down stop in the backfield. It was my biggest play so far," Greenstone said. "Hopefully, there's plenty more to be made."
The former resident of Pittsburgh, Pa., thinks the defensive line is playing better than most preseason observers expected. "We're probably a little inexperienced, but we go out there and fight and we have fun," Greenstone said. "We're quick and try to get after people."
In three games, the Commodore defense has compiled 10 sacks, ranking first in the SEC and seventh in the nation. They have also wreaked enough havoc to force six interceptions and four fumbles. The Commodores have allowed just 17 points per game.
Junior linebacker Patrick Benoist said the Greenstone and his friends on the defensive line are the most underrated aspect on the team.
"They do a great job of applying pressure to the quarterback, also plugging up holes in the running game," said Benoist.
He also noted Greenstone's contributions. "T.J.'s a redshirt freshman, who's done a great job. We all knew he'd do a great job, but he's gone out there and made some plays," Benoist said.
Greenstone knows he can do more. "There's always room for improvement each week. I definitely have to step up every week and crank it up another notch. We talk about our defense cranking up every snap," he said.
T.J. has continued adjusting to the game speed and tempo, which is much faster than high school. He's also learning to control his pre-game nerves, and figuring out how to relax and have fun on the gridiron.
"I'm trying to get used to my pre-game preparation and trying to just have fun, not be so worried with the plays behind me and just look forward to the next play," Greenstone said. "I think I'm definitely getting more comfortable with my reads and my playing ability and having confidence in myself to go out there and do what I can."
Greenstone also knows Ole Miss will present a big challenge for the Commodore defense. The 2-1 Rebels are averaging 173 rushing yards on offense and have allowed just one quarterback sack.
When the Commodore defense takes the field Saturday night in Oxford, they'll be playing for the university, their families and friends, and the team. Every Commodore will have his own reasons to play with tremendous spirit and personal pride.
Number 74 for the Commodores will be playing for those same reasons - and for a fallen best friend.