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49ers: Dre Greenlaw’s Uprising from Childhood Adversity

Jul 8, 2020 at 8:30 AM


LB Dre Greenlaw is currently known as the hero who capped off the NFL's 100th year by stopping Seahawks TE Jacob Hollister at the goal line, crowning the San Francisco 49ers as NFC West champions. It's easy to root for any player who puts the team in the win column, but it's what he's overcome off the field that's made him a player who is impossible not to love.

Growing up, Dre didn't really have stability. His mother never held a stable job, and his father was not very involved in the family. He initially lived with his two parents, along with all eleven of his siblings. However, his parents eventually separated, consequently splitting up all of Dre's siblings as well. The father took care of five siblings while the mother took care of seven children, including Dre. This lack of stability, as it would for anyone, led to struggles growing up.

Dre, his six siblings, and his mother never had a permanent place to live. They would move from house to house just to keep a roof over their heads, even if it meant having to rely on friends to bring them into their homes. These hardships impacted the way Dre had carried himself.

"I was kind of the bad kid, and I got suspended from school," he told NBC Sports Bay Area. "I was in and out of jail when I was young."

At ten years old, he was caught stealing a cell phone from his principal's office, which landed him in jail for three days. When living in an apartment, Dre got his family kicked out due to his involvement in fights.

These hardships took a toll on his mother as well, leading to struggles with alcoholism and, ultimately, the neglect of her family. The Department of Human Services declared his mother as unfit to provide for her family and terminated her rights as Dre's mother. This started Dre's journey of bouncing around in foster care all over the state of Arkansas. During this time, Dre was unable to be near his family, who never really reached out to him since he was a "bad kid." As one could imagine, he spent many nights crying alone, often going without eating enough food.

Dre eventually landed at the Methodist Boys Home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This is where, for the first time, Dre had a sense of stability. At thirteen years old, he played football for Ramay Junior High, which he said gave him a sense of purpose. To him, football was "my way of releasing my energy, releasing everything I've went through."

The team he played for acted as the family that he lacked. As he found a new purpose and passion, he became more mature and started to attend church.

While he was starting to excel at football, he ended up injuring his groin, causing the need for treatment –– this is where fate ultimately came into play.

Dre was sent to the local high school to rehab and get treatment for his groin injury. This is where he met Brian Early, one of the coaches of the high school team. Early was surprised to find out Dre was living in the group home. In his interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, he said he was "impressed with the way Dre carried himself," and knew there was something "special" about him.

Brian started to visit Dre at the Methodist Boys Home with the intention of being a mentor and playing the role of a father figure. He and his wife Nanci would take him to church, allow him to go on shopping sprees for clothes, treated him to meals, and even took him to his first Razorback game at the University of Arkansas. A clear bond was forming between the Earlys and Dre. This was routine, until the group home that Dre was residing in closed down.

When the Earlys learned about the Methodist Boys Home closing down, they considered fostering Dre. There were some concerns from friends about allowing Dre to stay in their home, citing the fact that at this point he was a teenager who would be living in their home with their two young daughters. Despite these concerns, they decided to bring Dre in as their foster child. When Nanci informed Dre they would be his foster parents, she told him that he needed to understand she would consider him as part of the family and did not know how to do this any other way.

A few days before Christmas, Dre officially moved in with his new family.

On the first night of officially living with the Early family, they decided to have a movie night. Brian described how in the middle of the movie, he looked over at his young daughters interacting with Dre, who remembers their fascination with "seeing Black hair for the first time." With the daughters' arms around Dre, it was apparent that they would get along just fine with their new brother.

Despite finally being in a stable home with a stable family, it took a while for Dre to adjust to his new style of living. The concept of permanence was something he was completely unfamiliar with. Brian and Nanci had to teach him that in his new home, it's okay to go into the pantry and eat whenever he was hungry or take as many portions as he'd like. It took some getting used to, but he finally understood what it was like to have family.

While he was always under the foster care of the Early family, he was officially adopted in the year 2018.

After committing to play football at the University of Arkansas, infamously rescuing a girl whose drink was spiked, and being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Dre Greenlaw has gone from a child struggling to find stability to having the chance to become an NFL champion. Keeping his roots in mind, he hopes to use his platform as an inspiration to those struggling as he did. He aims to get this message across: "No matter what you're going through, it's not about what you've done or where you've gone. It's about where you're going and where you want to go."

While he has made a name for himself for what he's done on the field, it's what he's overcome off the field that truly makes him a hero.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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