EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Jake Ganus has followed and admired Chad Greenway's career from afar over the past several years. Now, the two share a position room.
"Chad's been such a great linebacker in this league for a long time, so playing linebacker myself, I knew all about [him]," Ganus said Tuesday. "Everyone wants to have that long career like him."
Since signing with the Vikings as a rookie free agent in May, Ganus has studied every move of Greenway and the other veteran linebackers on the roster. From the weight room, to the film room, to the field, Ganus soaks it all in.
"Chad's been awesome," Ganus said. "Ever since I got to Minnesota, he and all the guys have done a good job of teaching us and taking us younger guys under their wing and showing us how it's done."
Ganus has been pursuing an NFL career since his sophomore year of high school, during which the dual-sport athlete decided to focus primarily on football. He started three years at Alabama-Birmingham before transferring to Georgia for his senior campaign after the Blazers ended their football program. Ganus started all 13 games for the Bulldogs in 2015, was named a defensive co-captain and recorded 102 tackles (44 solo).
"With the talent at Georgia, there were scouts and GMs coming through practice. I was getting in front of them and thinking, 'OK, this definitely a possibility,' " Ganus said. "So I worked hard, I had a good senior season, and then I got here."
When Ganus received the call from the Vikings and realized he had an opportunity to play under Head Coach Mike Zimmer, he couldn't have been happier. Ganus said he's had coaches throughout his journey who were "at the ends of both spectrums," whether more offensive-focused or more defensive-focused. To learn under a defensive mind like Zimmer has been ideal for the rookie.
"We get to have Coach Zimmer's attention [a lot] of the time and really learn from him," Ganus said. "We're able to pick his brain, because he knows so much. This is his defense, and he knows every little thing about it."
Transitioning into the NFL and Zimmer's defense offered the expected learning curve, and Ganus said he's intentional about absorbing as much as he can so that it becomes second nature when he steps into a game. Right now, Ganus' biggest goal is knowing the system inside and out, so he can play at top speed.
"When I'm out there thinking too much and trying to read this and read that, I [might] start playing slow," Ganus said. "What I've been able to pick up from [the veteran linebackers] is to watch how they do it while they're playing and just try to get the best mental reps as possible. And then when it's my turn to get out there, try to [replicate] it."
Ganus made his NFL debut last week, when he played 22 defensive snaps against the Bengals in the Vikings first preseason game. Although he said the first series felt initially overwhelming, the nerves quickly melted away.
"As soon as you hit someone or get hit for the first time, it's back to normal," Ganus said, smiling.
The linebacker said he didn't play as well as he would have liked to, but he's grateful to have the first game under his belt and to use it as a learning experience.
In addition to getting looks on defense, Ganus also played 13 special teams snaps in Cincinnati.
While he received minimal special teams experience at the college level, Ganus has embraced the position whole heartedly.
"Jake's very smart, [and] he's a good tackler," Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. "He's going to put himself in the right spots to make himself successful. He's very inexperienced on special teams, but he's worked very hard to get that experience."
Ganus is grateful to be playing under a special teams guru like Priefer and said he's been working with the coordinator on learning all he can and improving techniques.
"I love special teams," Ganus said. "We have so many great linebackers, and helping this team in any way I can is what I'm [here] to do.
"Becoming the best special teams player possible is a big goal for me," he added.
As Ganus continues to work toward his dream of an NFL career, he has another teammate beside him – his wife, Peyton. The two received quite the social media following when Ganus proposed to Peyton at midfield following Georgia's 52-20 defeat of South Carolina last September.
The two were married in June, embarked on their honeymoon and spent three weeks together before Ganus left Alabama for Minnesota. The long-distance aspect of their relationship has provided an unconventional start to their marriage, but Ganus said Peyton's support is unwavering, and he's that much more motivated to give 110 percent on the field every day.
After all, a football field is where it all started.
"She knows this is my dream," Ganus said. "It's her dream, too."
Ganus is taking each day at a time in pursuit of that dream. With three preseason games remaining in 2016, he's looking forward to the opportunity to continue showcasing his skillset. He said his main goal heading into the upcoming matchups is to play more loosely and trusting everything he knows.
"I'm in the playbook, and I feel like I know the defense pretty well," Ganus said. "So just going out there and making plays.
"That's what defense is about – making tackles and making plays," he added. "I'm just doing everything I can to make that happen."