Jon Greenwalt: Finding Strength Within the Family
Sept. 17, 2013
RUSTON, La. - When Jon Greenwalt committed to Louisiana Tech in 2011 to be a member of the Bulldog family, all was well with the Greenwalt family.
Jon's twin brother Rick, currently an offensive lineman for the Bulldogs, also agreed to play for LA Tech under then head coach Sonny Dykes at the time. Growing up in California, the two brothers were always on the football field together, literally - pee wee, junior high, high school, Riverside Community College the year prior and now at Tech.
After wrapping up his first Spring Camp with the Bulldogs, tragedy struck the 6-foot-3-inch inside receiver and the Greenwalt's in an unimaginable way.
On May 22, 2012, while back in his hometown of Wildomar, Calif., Jon was at a friend's house when he received a phone call that ultimately changed his world. His mother had passed away suddenly in her sleep after a heart aneurism.
Vikki Greenwalt died at the age of 52, leaving behind her husband of 22 years, Jon Sr., and two twin boys.
"It was tough," Jon Sr., the twins' father, said while fighting back tears. "I didn't - it took a while for me to deal with it myself until someone in my family asked how my boys were doing. It was then that I realized they were dealing with it too and needed my support. They mostly helped me deal with her loss at first. They are both totally different kids and deal with things differently, but I did the best I could given the circumstances."
Dealing with the sudden passing of their proudest supporter, Jon leaned on the shoulder of Rick and vice versa. In the wake of tragedy, it was clear a decision would have to be made regarding his future at LA Tech, and it would have to be soon. Whether he would stay back home in support of his family or continue his football career at Tech, the decision was a trying one.
Jon decided, after an emotional conversation with his dad and Rick, to continue with the plan and return back to Ruston to play football for the Bulldogs.
"Probably the reason I came back after her death was because I knew Rick would be out here with me and I kind of had another family out here in the team itself and the support from everyone around me," Jon said. "Football just made everything easier to deal with."
Rick followed suit soon after and re-joined his brother on the football field, even though he would eventually be redshirted for the 2012 season.
"Having him here with me was everything," Rick said of Jon's support. "I came out to Ruston two weeks after it happened and he was supposed to come back the week it happened, but he stayed back with me for a little bit. We got to talking about it, and he just told me I needed to come back here. We both decided we needed someone to lean on."
Playing the role of older brother, even if it was only by two minutes, Jon packed his things in California into his mom's old car, and hit the road to Ruston, soon to be joined by his brother.
"Jon was kind of putting things off about leaving at first I think because of me - he was worried about me until I think I convinced him I was okay," Jon Sr. said. "It wasn't something we talked about much. He just picked up and did it on his own.
"He always has been like that - the older brother type. Even when they were in my wife's stomach before they were born. She was having some trouble and the doctor called us in and told us Jon was kicking Ricky around too much in the womb and had him at an awkward position, so he's always had that big brother mentality."
Once back in Ruston and in his comfort zone on the football field, with his mom in his thoughts, Jon's focus turned to preparing for the upcoming 2012 season.
The Bulldogs went 9-3 in Jon's junior campaign and the California native finished the season with 24 catches for 210 yards and two touchdown receptions. The team posted the No. 1 scoring offense and total offense in the country.
Soon after the season concluded, Jon Sr. made the decision to give up his life in California to be closer to his two sons.
"It might seem kind of weird to some, but I love them and missed them," Jon's dad remembers. "I am really attached to them. I had a business back in California and it was going south and I didn't have interest in it anymore. So, I gave most of my stuff away and stored away all the family memorabilia. It took about a month to find a job down here, but it has been totally worth it.
"I am not here to be their father and check up on them and they know that. I am here because I love watching them play."
With the hardships faced over the course of the last year and the family back together once again, Jon's lasting memory of his mom, Vikki, will always remain special to him.
More than anyone, his mom was looking forward to watching her two boys on the football field together for yet another season, this time at Joe Aillet Stadium.
"Her favorite thing in the world was to watch us play football," Jon said of his mom's passion for the sport. "That is what she lived for. She never missed a game."
"She was so excited just to watch us play," Rick said. "I remember the Spring Game [in 2012] when I was still at home and Jon was in Ruston playing in it. I could hear her yelling upstairs just because Jon caught the ball. She got so excited about the smallest things. She was just a huge football fan and loved everything about watching us play."
When the Greenwalt boys were forced to make funeral arrangements following Vikki's death, it only made sense to bury her in something she loved.
"She actually wore a Louisiana Tech sweatshirt when we buried her," Jon said. "She absolutely would have loved everything about it."
"We had to come up with something for her to be buried in and I was going to buy something at first, but all three of us started talking about what she liked and it all came back to football and her boys," Jon Sr. said. "They were her entire life and had given her the new Tech sweatshirt when Jon came back home and she had not had a chance to wear it yet. Other family members said it wasn't really normal and that she should have been dressed up, but we at least kept her jewelry on and it looked absolutely great. It was perfect."
With the 2013 season under way, Jon's focus is on putting together a productive senior campaign, and over the course of the season, his dad and brother are certain to be there every step of the way for support.
"This year, I will make all the home games and as many road games as possible," his dad proclaimed. "I do not want to miss anything."
Although Jon will have to finish his collegiate football career without his biggest fan in the stadium, he said he intends to make his senior campaign his best yet in dedication to his mother.
"It is all for her," he said. "Everything I do now is for her."
For complete coverage of LA Tech Football, please follow @LATechFB on Twitter or visit the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics at LATechSports.com.
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