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Green returns home for next chapter in career

Tampa Bay Vipers WR S.J. Green

Tampa Bay Vipers WR S.J. Green at practice Wednesday heading into a Week 4 matchup with the DC Defenders.

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- Whether it was the days of playing football at his grandma’s house in Alabama with cousin Mike or seeing the camaraderie that came with his dad’s Super Bowl parties, Tampa Bay Vipers wide receiver S.J. Green can’t pinpoint exactly how he fell in love with football.

But he knows when he did.

“I was five-years-old when I fell in love with the sport, and I haven’t been right ever since,” Green said with a grin.

The dream of playing professionally started early, too. “The first moment I put on a [Brandon] Cowboys helmet playing Little League when I was eight, I wanted to play in the NFL,” Green said. “I wanted to be like Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman.

Green started organized youth football in 1993 and played for seven years. Having played for the Cowboys of Brandon, it was only logical to root for the Cowboys of Dallas. They were an NFL dynasty in the 1990s, and Green greatly admired the “triplets."

“When I was young, I wanted to be Michael Irvin,” said Green. “It transitioned when I got to high school. I watched Keyshawn Johnson because he was here locally with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that was the reason why I wore 19 for the majority of my career.”

Green then moved onto Brandon High School, where he was an Eagle for three seasons and attended [Florida] Gators’ football camp. He applied himself each summer and came away with three MVP titles.

The Gators later showed interest in Green as a future recruit, and Green, too, had his eye on the orange and blue. The organization was laying low, though, and out of the shadows emerged the USF Bulls who offered him a full scholarship.

He accepted.

S.J. Green makes a one-handed grab in the CFL

Off the field, Green was surrounded by his family and friends and met his future wife, Danielle. On the field, however, his Bulls career wasn’t what he expected. In four years, he had 62 receptions for 864 yards and five TDs.

Green looks back without anguish, though. “In life, you can’t regret anything. You just have to roll with the punches,” he said. “Going to [University of] Florida may have had its advantages and may have posed different outcomes for my professional future, but I wouldn’t change this journey I’ve been on for anything in the world.”

Shortly after graduation, the CFL Montreal Alouettes were holding tryouts at USF. Green was apprehensive, but Danielle gave him just the push he needed. “I was ready to give up football,” he shared. “I didn’t have the statistics in college that I wanted to move forward and put the spotlight on myself.”

“[Danielle] challenged me and said, ‘I plan on being with you for the rest of your life. If you don’t go out there and give this a try, I don’t want to hear a couple years down the road; I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that.’”

“That really resonated with me,” said Green. “I went out there and did the workout, and I’ve been playing professionally ever since.”

It set him on a path toward becoming one of the most accomplished receivers in the league.

Green is a bonafide CFL legend and future Hall of Famer. A two-team career that spanned 12 seasons produced 716 receptions, 10,222 yards, and 60 touchdowns. He won the Grey Cup three times, back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, and was an 8-time All-Star.

In 2020, after so many years and so much success, Green was ready to pursue a new challenge.

Earlier this month, he requested his release from the Argonauts. It was granted.

No sooner that Green left Toronto on Feb. 7, did he sign with the XFL. Following Week 1, he signed a deal with primary ownership and entered the waiver wire where his rights were picked up by the Seattle Dragons, who sat atop the wire. His time as a Dragon went poof, however, as he was traded after Week 2.

Green was headed home.

Following a Feb. 19 trade with the Dragons, the receiver was reunited with Marc Trestman, who had coached Green for the majority of his CFL career and in all three Grey Cup victories.

Over the seven seasons that Green was with Trestman, he grew to appreciate his coach for qualities like consistency, meticulousness, and persistency. “I’ve been through a lot of different programs and the small details; a lot of coaches don’t really lock into those things,” said Green. “Trestman does. He encourages his staff to lock into the details, which, in turn, makes the players lock in and be that much more focused as well. It helps for the better. I feel like as the guys continue to be around him and learn his ways, it’ll all come together.”

Another amazing one-handed catch by S.J. Green in the CFL

Green, too, has his fair share of qualities that he brings to the Vipers, and the talented wide receiving corps of Reece Horn, Jalen Tolliver, and Dan Williams. “I bring myself -- I bring my energy, my professionalism, my veteran-savvy. I bring my love for this game.”

Just a few short months ago, Green had come off a 1,039-yard season in which he eclipsed a historic 10,000 receiving yards. It was his third consecutive time with 1,000+ yards receiving and seventh of his career.

Transitioning so quickly to the XFL after a physical season is not easy, which is why he was inactive versus the Houston Roughnecks, but Trestman said Green is getting there. “He’s still getting his body in condition after coming off an 18-game season. This week in practice, we’re hoping to find out that he is [ready].”

“I watched him grow as a man, as a father, as a husband, and as a player the last 12 years, He’s a guy I couldn’t be prouder of. He’s a tremendous leader of men. I can’t wait to activate him and make him a part of what we’re doing.”

Vipers head coach Marc Trestman on Green

“I watched him grow as a man, as a father, as a husband, and as a player the last 12 years,” Trestman said. “He’s a guy I couldn’t be prouder of. He’s a tremendous leader of men. I can’t wait to activate him and make him a part of what we’re doing.”

Should Green be active Sunday versus the DC Defenders, the receiver is anticipating playing in front of the hometown crowd. “It’s been a while since I played at Raymond James Stadium, so to come full circle and end up back at Raymond James 13 years removed from college is a blessing, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

“Growing up here in Tampa, the pedigree, the competitiveness that is the state of Florida, especially this area, helped shape my drive for this game,” Green said. “The football environment here in Tampa is very special. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”