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Second Wind : Burned Out a Year Ago, UCLA's Greenwood Appears Energized and Ready for Senior Year

August 23, 1994|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carl Greenwood was sick.

Homesick, heartsick--but mainly sick of football after 13 years in pads, having begun as an 8-year-old in Pop Warner competition.

An NFL future didn't look all that inviting. Neither did two more years at UCLA.

He was a cornerback in August of 1993, and ahead were twice-daily practice sessions, leading to a season-opening game against California at the Rose Bowl.

Been there, he told A.J. Christoff, UCLA's defensive back coach, who recognized burnout right away. Done that, he told Marvin Goodwin, teammate, soul mate and running mate at safety, who understood that something had to be done to make the game fun again for Greenwood.

Greenwood couldn't wait to get out of Texas as a high school senior. Now he couldn't wait to get back home as a college junior.

His lifeline stretches 1,800 miles, from Westwood to Corpus Christi, in south Texas, where Carl Greenwood Sr. had sat a 3-year-old Carl Jr. alongside to watch the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers on television and had taught him to throw, kick and catch a football. Carl Sr., a former longshoreman, had also taught Carl Jr. about the value of an education, and the reminder came through again over the telephone, first with the advice of a religious man and then with practicality.

"I was surprised when he said he wanted to give up football and come home," Carl Sr. said. "I told him to pray. Then I told him he should stick it out to see where it takes him, and I reminded him how many people would like to have the opportunity he had. He was burned out on football, I guess."

Carl Jr. respects his father, who has usually known best, and he stayed at UCLA.

Thank goodness, said Christoff, who had a plan for Greenwood that involved throwing him to the wolves.

"He was our best cornerback," Christoff said, and set about turning Greenwood into a target, having him cover the opposition's best receiver week after week until the Bruins' other cornerback, Teddy Lawrence, was ready to share the load.

"It's the same thing we had done with Carlton Gray the year before," Christoff said. "We like to match up the best with the best. No matter how good your scheme is, if your people aren't up to performing, you're in a tough situation."

The challenge helped. So did Goodwin, who decided Greenwood didn't laugh enough.

"He and I would sometimes sit together on the side in practice and watch the younger players," Greenwood said. "We would crack at them, at their mistakes, and it would make practice go by faster."

He was energized again, and Stanford's Justin Armour, San Diego State's Darnay Scott and Brigham Young's Eric Drage paid for it. All caught passes, but all were held scoreless by Greenwood.

Football was fun again.

"I want to play the best," he said. "How are you going to find out how good you are if you don't play the best?"

Even practice became fun again. It offered a daily test against J.J. Stokes, an All-American receiver, who got one, too.

"I like covering him," Greenwood said. "Everybody talks about how good Stokes is, and I say, 'Come on. Let me see.' I do pretty well against him, and I think he'll tell you I'm the toughest defensive back he has to face all season."

"Definitely," said Stokes. "He's unbelievably strong, definitely the strongest corner I face. Nobody jams me better. And he's fast. He's covered receivers with sprinters' speed.

"I don't know why he hasn't gotten more attention. I think he is one of the top five cornerbacks in the nation."

Greenwood has two messages for UCLA's receivers, considered by some to be the best group in college football.

"I tell them they should be glad they don't have to face me on Saturday," he said.

The other is thanks.

"They help me get ready and get better," he said. "I don't face anybody any tougher."

It's all a physical and mental game within the game, the cornerback and the wide receiver.

"It's just you and the guy right there," said Greenwood. "You have to see who is the best man. It's what I like. You're out there on an island, and that's when you can show what you can do."

It's reward. And punishment.

He has been beaten four times in three seasons, by his count.

The first to do it was Carl Pickens of Tennessee, an All-American now playing with the Cincinnati Bengals. Greenwood was a redshirt freshman, in his second game, the first as astarter.

"I had never gotten beaten in high school, and I took it hard," Greenwood said. "I couldn't believe I was beaten that way because I'd never experienced it."

A call to Corpus Christi helped. The advice was to forget about it because if you don't, it will happen again. There is no time for brooding.

Christoff had told him the same thing, but . . .

"I always say Dad was my first coach," Greenwood said. You always listen to your first coach."

To prevent a recurrence of burnout, the UCLA coaching staff sent Greenwood home this summer, while most of his teammates attended school and went through a workout program.

It helped.

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