By Brian Spencer
Five years ago, Chris Greenwood was No. 28 for the Detroit Martin Luther King football team, a key contributor for a Crusaders as they finished 7-3 and made the playoffs.
These days, he's a national sports story.
Greenwood, a 6-foot-1, 193-pound cornerback, is attempting the rare jump from Division III college football to the NFL. A standout at Albion College, he was selected in the fifth round of last month's NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.
His round-trip travels from his hometown and back again also included a stop at Northwood University. Greenwood played his final three college seasons for the Britons, last fall being named the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year.
What is your favorite high school memory?
Winning the city championship senior year at Ford Field.
Were there any life/football lessons that you learned in high school that you’ve carried with you through college and now to the league?
Work hard; don’t let anything distract you. You are capable of doing anything that you put your mind to, and then some.
What is the biggest transition you’ve seen from DIII football at Albion to the Lions?
The talent difference I’ve had to get acclimated to, as well as technique. Technique has a much heavier emphasis now. I’ve also noticed a difference in speed and different terminology. For example, simple names for coverages have changed.
If you could trade places with anyone in the world right now, who would it be?
Nobody! I feel like I am in the best position possible. I’m living the dream.
What advice would you give to aspiring athletes who want to make the jump from high school to college? College to professional?
Never give up. Don’t ever quit. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. If you work hard and have the ability, they will find you.
What wide receiver tested you most to get to where you are at today?
My older brother (Doug Greenwood); growing up he was always stronger. We used to play, just him and I. He was pretty good. I had to figure out what way I was going to cover him because he was that much faster and stronger. This all took place just in the backyard or the park.
Would you say that your past at a Division III college has helped or hurt you more in the transition from college to professional ball?
It didn’t hurt, as far as what I have to do and what I’m doing now (in practice or off the field), but I feel like it affected my draft position. I could have gotten more exposure at bigger schools. At this point none of that matters; I’m glad to be where I am. Very happy.
Who was your favorite football player growing up?
Charles Woodson (former University of Michigan and current Green Bay Packers cornerback)
Is Donald Driver (Packers WR) more or less intimidating now that he has won "Dancing with the Stars?" If asked, would you be on "Dancing with the Stars?"
No way, he is not more intimidating because of that. If I were asked to do that, I wouldn’t right now. Maybe later on in my career I would do that, but right now I've got to stay focused.
PHOTOS courtesy of Albion College. Note about the interviewer: Brian Spencer is an MHSAA intern this summer, and was an Albion College football teammate of Greenwood's the last three seasons.
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)