FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Parental Perspective: From fan, to walk-on, to starter
- Coach’s Corner: Collins still high on Gators
- At Florida, it’s more than football, it’s family
- Dexter’s improbable path to football stardom
- Former Player Feedback: 10 UF-UM Observations
- The Day After Breakdown: Grading the Gators
- 10 Takeaways: Don’t get too high or too low
The road to the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando this past weekend was a long one for all involved. A highly anticipated Week 0 matchup between in-state foes had both program's players, coaches and fan bases riled up. The team's players and fans had been warring on social media for months, but for one Gator, the road was even longer.
Jonathan Greenard’s journey to Florida and his dominant performance against Miami was a long time coming.
Just a year ago, in the same exact stadium, Greenard found himself in a position he had never been in before. As a Louisville Cardinal, Greenard’s season was taken away from him on the first defensive drive of the 2018 season, when he suffered a wrist injury.
“It’s been a blessing to see him bounce back to where he is today, because last year when it happened (injury), it threw us all for a loop,” said Carmen Greenard-Varnum, Jonathan’s mother.
Greenard-Varnum was in Orlando last year when the Cardinals faced the Alabama Crimson Tide to kick off the 2018 season. At first, she said she didn’t think anything of her son’s injury, because she was on the opposite side of the field. But once she saw Johnathon go to the locker room, she immediately morphed into mom mode and rushed over to the locker room area.
When she finally got to see her son, Greenard-Varnum said he looked ready to breakdown, but she told him ‘we will get through this’ and implored him to get back on the sidelines and cheer on his teammates. Like the Captain he was, Greenard did just that and rejoined his team with his arm in a cast, cheering his team on even though he knew his season was finished.
According to Greenard-Varnum, the hard part came after, mentally recovering from the surgery.
After the procedure, she stayed with her son for a week, making sure he was okay. She knew sitting out would be tough on him considering he had been playing football since he was five years old.
As the season was winding down, Greenard phoned his mother, telling her, ‘Momma, I think I might want to transfer.’
“I told him, 'focus on graduating, get your papers,'” Greenard-Varnum said. “Get your degree and we’ll figure it out.”
Greenard would go on to graduate and became an eligible grad-transfer. When looking at potential schools, one that came to mind for Greenard was Oregon, but mom said that was too far away. When he informed his mother that Todd Grantham was at Florida, she knew it was meant to be.
“I got chills down my spine about the thought of him reuniting with Grantham,” Grantham-Varnum said.
Grantham and the Greenard’s have a long-standing relationship, one originally formed when Jonathan was in high school and Grantham, then Louisville's defensive coordinator, recruited him to UL.
That began a relationship that would include them meeting and speaking with Grantham on numerous occasions and it would lead to Greenard eventually committing to Louisville.
“He’s tough, and I knew that’s just what Jonathan need,” Greenard-Varnum said.
Grantham and Greenard had a strong bond both on and off the field. But when Grantham left for the Mississippi State defensive coordinator spot after the 2016 season, the Greenard family was a little disappointing.
“We understood it was business, but it was upsetting,” Greenard-Varnum said.
But the chance to hook back up with Grantham was too good to be true. Greenard would be able to fine-tune his skills and show his talent one last time under a coach he has a great relationship. On top of that, he would get to wear the colors he once did as a young fan, Orange and Blue.
“He always wore his Gator jacket,” Greenard-Varnum said of Jonathan growing up. “He’s been a fan since he was young. This is where he’s meant to be.”
Greenard would eventually transfer to Florida, getting back into a defensive scheme he knew like the back of his hand. According to his mother, Greenard’s old defensive coordinator saw a lot of growth and maturity in him.
“I knew then, this would be even better,” Greenard-Varnum said.
He would go on to be named the starter at the BUCK edge position in Grantham’s defense to open the season against Miami. 358 days since his injury, in the same stadium, Greenard was ready to prove he belonged.
He was anxious prior to the game, his mother said. Before the game, Greenard-Varnum told him, ‘Have no fear.’ Once the Gators ran out of the tunnel and the defense took the field, Greenard was fearless, relentless and dominant for four quarters.
With his family in the stands, Greenard put on a show in his first outing in the Orange and Blue. He was a problem for Miami’s offensive line throughout the night, on his way to 1.5 sacks as well as pressure-after-pressure. As the Gators were on the other side of the scoreboard heading into half time, Greenard-Varnum found herself in the stadium concourse to get out of the heat. But once the second half started, she knew she had to get back to her seat.
“I had to go back in because I knew he was going to do something,” Greenard-Varnum said. “When he came off that line, I said ‘Look at him, we are not losing this game”.
Her confidence now seems more like motherly intuition, as the Gators were able to come back from their halftime deficit to beat the Hurricanes. Greenard and the defense were key in sealing the deal down the stretch.
“With Jonathan and (Jabari) Zuniga working together, they can do a whole lot,” Greenard-Varnum said.
It was a bittersweet moment for Greenard-Varnum to see her son come back from the hand he was dealt just a year ago. More importantly than just getting the win, she knows her son is happy.
“He’s so elated about being a Gator,” Greenard-Varnum said about her son.
She too says she’s feeling the love from the Gator Nation and is overjoyed to be a part of the family. She’s always been a football mom and goes to all of Jonathan’s game. She said this experience so far as a parent has been much different than when he was at Louisville.
“I looked around and thought ‘Oh my god look at all these people,” Greenard-Varnum said.
She says the expectations are far different Louisville’s and hopes they go out and win every game. From seeing them Saturday and throughout the off-season, she says the team looks like they want it. No matter how the rest of the season unfolds, she’s along for the ride and ready to watch Johnathon live out his dream.
“He’s happy, which means I’m very happy.”