Dre Greenlaw has flown under the radar most of this season. A rookie linebacker, a fifth-round draft pick, he was expected to be a backup and special-teamer for the 49ers.
In Week 9, he became a starter, and Sunday night in Seattle, he became a hero. His tackle at the 1-yard line preserved the 49ers’ 26-21 victory over the Seahawks and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Dre Greenlaw is under the radar no more.
Here are some things to know about him:
1) His given name is Keaundre Greenlaw. He was born in Arkansas on May 25, 1997.
2) He spent six years in foster homes until a family took him in just before Christmas 2011 when he was 14. He was officially adopted just after his 21st birthday in July 2018.
3) His adoptive father, Brian Early, is the defensive line coach at the University of Houston. He had the same position at Arkansas State and recruited Greenlaw to play there. Greenlaw chose Arkansas.
“We wanted to let him make his own decision,” Early told Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat in 2018. “All of his life he’s had decisions made for him and he’s had things taken from him. We thought, let’s give him this, let him make the decision and I know it was tough for him to do.
“That’s where he always dreamed of playing. Obviously on National Signing Day we didn’t get the signature we wanted, but hey, I wouldn’t trade it for the one that we got in July, you know what I mean?”
July 2018 is when the Earlys officially adopted Greenlaw. (They would have done it sooner, but it made more sense for Greenlaw to remain a ward of the state til he turned 21.)
“Paper or no paper, they’re my parents,” Greenlaw said in the 2018 profile by Murphy.
4) Greenlaw doesn’t talk much about his early years, but there was drug use and prison terms in his family of origin.
“You still remember those long nights that you cried alone by yourself when you didn’t have nothing to eat and all that, you remember all that,” he said in the profile story. “Nobody went through that but you. So whenever things start getting hard for me and I don’t see things clearly right, I just look at what I’ve been through.”
“It’s made me where I am today. Now, would I have liked to have been with my real parents throughout the whole sequence? Yeah, if I had been with my mom it would have made things a lot better. But I know I wouldn’t be as strong of a man as I am today.”
5) He was a safety in high school, the No. 1 safety in the state.
6) He was named to the SEC all-Freshman team, but his most impressive deed that year was done off the field. Greenlaw, then 17, was at a kegger party when he saw a guy slip something into a young woman’s drink. And when that guy tried to lead the young woman out of the party, the 17-year-old freshman stepped in and put an end to it.
The story surfaced only last spring, after Greenlaw was drafted by the 49ers, and the young woman’s father took to social media. Gerry Dales said he didn’t tell the story then because he didn’t want to jeopardize Greenlaw’s standing on the team.
“He was a starter on the Razorbacks. His place was not secure. He was underage and at a kegger. He wasn’t drinking, but if there was a fight he was risking getting thrown off the team. In some ways, he was risking everything,” Dales wrote.
“I didn’t ever tell this story, because maybe someone would say “Oh, he shouldn’t have been at that party.” Maybe not. But he had my daughter’s back, and for that I will always owe him.
“So, do me a favor,” Dales concluded. “Root for Dre. He’s a good kid with a good heart.”
7) Greenlaw was captain of the Arkansas football team his senior year.
8) He seems to love to play against the Seahawks. In his first game against them, Monday Night Football in Week 10, Greenlaw got his first career interception, picking off Russell Wilson.
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