Louisville linebacker Jonathan Greenard has become the story of Louisville’s defense this season.
Greenard leads the Cardinals with 9.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks this season. His 9.5 tackles for loss rank him eighth in the nation.
ESPN’s Andrea Adelson uncovered a story about Louisville’s new defensive standout that goes beyond his tackle numbers. In this piece for ESPN, Adelson describes the bond between Greenard and Ryan Tomberlin, who served as a manager for Greenard’s high school football team.
Tomberlin has both autism and epilepsy, but when he became the manager for the Hiram (Ga.) High School football team prior to Greenard’s junior season, Greenard said he was accepted by the team.
“He’s like a brother,” Greenard told Adelson. “For my teammates as well. They all realized he’s the same as us. We didn’t look at him any differently.”
Greenard and Tomberlin quickly became close, eating lunch with one another every day at school. Prior to Greenard’s senior season, Tomberlin suffered a seizure while swimming in a pool and nearly drowned. When Greenard got to the hospital, Tomberlin was in a coma.
“I did break down. I thought we were going to lose him at first,” Greenard said. “But knowing Ryan and knowing the person he is and his mom, his upbringing, he’s a strong kid.”
Eventually, Tomberlin pulled through.
Now, three years later, when Greenard returns home, Tomberlin is one of the first people he visits. After Louisville played LSU in the Citrus Bowl last season, Greenard gave Tomberlin the gloves he wore during the game as well as his Citrus Bowl hat.
According to Adelson, Tomberlin wore the gloves for a week straight.
“Jonathan doesn’t understand how large of a thing he’s doing,” Tomerblin’s mother, Stacey, whom Greenard refers to as “Mama Stacey,” told Adelson. “To him, Ryan’s just his brother. Doesn’t everybody do this? No, they don’t, Jon. They don’t remember their special needs friend back in their little bitty hometown that has no friends but you.”
It’s not just Greenard who gives to Tomberlin, either. Greenard said his experience getting to know Tomberlin has made him a better football player because he now understands how precious an opportunity it is to play collegiately.
“I don’t take the game for granted because I know people like him wish they could be in my shoes,” Greenard said. “I don’t take a play off. I just make sure I do the right thing — that way I don’t let him down.”