Football: College degree a big deal for Cajuns corner Greenhouse
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 15, 2020
From the day he stepped on campus in 2015, Kamar Greenhouse knew odds were stacked against him.
His road to UL already was littered with obstacles, then tragedy struck during his second year in school.
All of which makes Friday — graduation day — that much more meaningful for the exiting Ragin’ Cajuns cornerback from Marksville High.
“Where I’m from, a lot of my friends didn’t even graduate high school, you know what I’m saying?” Greenhouse said of the small Avoyelles Parish seat located about 25 miles as the crow flies southeast of Alexandria in Central Louisiana.
“So for me to get a college degree, that’s big,” he added last week, a tone of virtual disbelief in his voice. “That’s major for my family, for me, for the whole community.”
And especially, you can only imagine, for one particular relative who cannot share in the joy.
In October 2016, Greenhouse’s 43-year-old mother Allison Greenhouse — a housekeeper at Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville for more than 20 years, a devout Catholic and the sole provider for her children — died from a multitude of medical ailments she’d been battling, including kidney failure.
One year later: 'She was here, and then she was gone'
Ragin' Cajuns cornerback Kamar Greenhouse, who is graduating from UL, looks up to his late mother Allison Greenhouse. (Photo: Special to The Advertiser/Carlos Rubio and Kamar Greenhouse)
When UL played Tulane earlier that season in New Orleans, Greenhouse spent time at her Tulane Medical Center bedside.
Three days before she passed, he made his Cajun debut playing on the kickoff coverage unit in a win at Texas State.
With Greenhouse being the oldest of four siblings living with various family members, and funeral and related expenses mounting, an NCAA-compliant GoFundMe campaign was founded.
With widespread generosity from many including Cajun teammates, coaches and fans, its $15,000 goal was met.
A final anonymous $155 donation 28 months ago put the total $10 over the top.
A year after the death, as he reminisced, a grateful Greenhouse was struck by the lessons only true sadness like the loss of someone so close can bring.
“I know she’s in a better place,” he said in 2017.
“You just can’t take life for granted. The people we love — we’ve got to make sure we tell ’em we love ’em.”
Flash forward to 2020, and the Cajuns are preparing to play Miami (Ohio) at the LendingTree Bowl.
It’s early January in Mobile, Alabama, three days into a new year.
Greenhouse is a semester away from leaving UL with a bachelor’s degree in general studies, and as he reflects on that reality one person comes to mind.
“I feel like it’s a compliment to my mom,” Greenhouse said after one of the final practices of his college career, “and how she raised me.”
'HE TAUGHT ME A LOT'
Greenhouse really has had hurdles to overcome.
His father “calls whenever he can,” the cornerback said in 2017, but he was imprisoned before Kamar was born and remained incarcerated at Angola State Penitentiary as Greenhouse’s Cajun career unfolded.
In 2015, before UL even finished preseason camp, Greenhouse sustained a season-ending injury.
He played five games on special teams in 2016, and 12 games — mostly on special teams, but also with two starts at corner — in 2017.
After a coaching change and another injury setback in 2018, Greenhouse again played five games — including a four-tackle outing at Appalachian State.
Last season the fifth-year senior appeared in 12 games, starting UL’s opener against Mississippi State at the Superdome in New Orleans.
He had his first career interception and returned it 45 yards in a September win at Ohio, then capped things off with a tackle in the Cajuns’ bowl win.
And while he was playing regularly on special teams but less than he would have liked at corner, squeezed at times from a rotation that featured recent Philadelphia Eagles undrafted free agent signee Michael Jacquet III and promising youngsters Asjlin “A.J.” Washington and starter Eric Garror, Greenhouse remained a caring teammate.
Ragin' Cajuns cornerback Kamar Greenhouse celebrates on Cajun Field after UL's 2019 win over Liberty. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
Whether on the sideline or away from it, wisdom was reflected in his words and open ears listened.
“Kamar, he taught me a lot just with him being there so long,” said Garror, who started as a true freshman in 2018 and again last year.
“He taught me a lot with the football perspective, and life’s perspective. He just taught me do’s and don’ts, and some of the stuff that was happening on the field when he wasn’t out there.
“He just taught me about being a big brother,” Garror added last week, “and he kept me focused and did not let me get off track.”
Greenhouse learned the hard way to stay on track.
“There were many, many, many times it would have been easy for him to say, ‘You know what? Fate, society, responsibility is just not making (college) possible; it’s maybe this is one of those situations that just isn’t supposed to happen; let me go home …, ’” UL’s football operations director Troy Wingerter said.
“It would have been easy for him to rationalize that was the right thing for him to do. And instead, he continued to persevere. He had the foresight to say, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do more for my (siblings) by graduating from college than I can ever do by going home to Marksville and trying to take care of them.’
“I love this kid. I do. He always has a smile on his face,” added Wingerter, who helped organize the GoFundMe efforts. “That’s a hard thing to do sometimes when you’re faced with a lot of the things he’s been faced with.”
'MAN, IT'S THE REAL THING'
It’s last Friday night, a few minutes after 7 p.m., and Greenhouse couldn’t be happier.
He’s just turned in his final exam.
He used his creativity to present a slide project on Louisiana history for one of the last two classes he needed to finish his degree.
The other course was statistics.
“I finished with 110 in stat — and I’m not even good at math,” Greenhouse said with another laugh, this one as much as relief as disbelief.
“But I was done with football, so I was able to put in the time I needed — all my effort — toward passing that class.
“And I just passed my history final,” he added, “so I’m just waiting for graduation now.”
That day has arrived.
But due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that’s shut down college sports and most in-person classroom instruction since mid-March, this graduation will be like none other at UL.
Like coursework was completed, it will be done virtually.
Starting at 10 a.m. Friday, with graduates all under different roofs, degrees will be conferred during commencement ceremonies streamed on the school’s website.
Saturday, Lafayette’s four TV network affiliates will televise a commencement celebration resembling the university’s traditional in-person general assembly. KATC will carry the ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by KADN, KLAF and KLFY at 6:30.
The school has said an actual in-person celebration will take place later, when it’s safer to gather again.
For Greenhouse, the fact it’s happening at all hit even before he submitted that last assignment.
It was earlier last week when UL athletic department academic services administrative assistant Terry Latiolais had a delivery for Greenhouse and some of the other graduating Cajuns.
“Miss Terry,” Greenhouse said, “came to bring my medal and … my stole and I was like, ‘Man, it’s the real thing. I’m really about to graduate college.’”
Even if there’s no formal graduation to wear the stole to, no in-person ceremony — yet — to share handshakes, hugs and high fives.
'A RENAISSANCE MAN'
Those who know him well couldn’t be happier that Greenhouse finished.
“I called him as soon as I found out,” said Wingerter, who knows not everyone who starts college graduates. “I told him how proud I am. … To have the adversities he’s faced, in conjunction with the responsibilities he had with football, it’s a real testament to the kind of character his mother instilled in him.”
UL cornerback Kamar Greenhouse and his late mother Allison Greenhouse spend time after his 2015 graduation from Marksville High. (Photo: Contributed family photo)
“Kamar Greenhouse has always had a positive attitude,” UL head coach Billy Napier added. “He was a great example of how to persevere during his career through the ups and downs. … We can’t wait to see him do big things going forward.”
But, like so many new graduates, Greenhouse isn’t sure what that future holds.
Like so many who toil, he harbors hope his playing days aren’t done just yet.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, his Pro Day and that of other Cajun seniors was canceled.
But he’s been working out with a few teammates since the season ended — including running back Raymond Calais Jr., taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft that also saw Robert Hunt go to Miami in the second round and fellow offensive lineman Kevin Dotson to Pittsburgh in the fourth round.
Greenhouse said one CFL team has made an inquiry, and he has an agent, so he continues to train.
“It’s really hard with the season I had,” he said, “(but) I feel like I still have more to give to the game.
“I haven’t just ‘hung it up.’ … I’m just gonna wait and see if I get a phone call.”
If not, his early focus in school beyond football was on industrial design.
So there are possibilities there too — maybe even in fashion design, as urged by a former UL track athlete.
“I’m really interested in making the clothes,” Greenhouse said, “but modeling is definitely in the air too.
“She started up her modeling career, and she’s actually the person who got me serious about it. Because at first I wasn’t. I was like, ‘A model? I’m not doing that. I play football.’”
Miami and New York don’t just have football teams, so perhaps a runway call is in Greenhouse’s future.
Who knows? And why not?
“Kamar Greenhouse is special,” Wingerter said.
“He’s a bit of a Renaissance man. … He’s not a cardboard cutout of a football player, and I mean that in a very good way.”
So a kid can dream, especially one not supposed to get out of high school, never mind college.
One who shoved one barricade after another out of his way.
One who just spent five seasons feeling time fly.
“The years came and went so fast,” Greenhouse said. “I was just a freshman, and it’s 2020 now.
“It’s been a journey, for sure.”
One who got everything out of the university experience, even though some might have told him he had no business going.
One who stayed, even when his mother moved on.
“Everything happening, it motivated me,” Greenhouse said, looking back on the full ride. “But I feel like my future is still bright.
“Being in college, and being hands-on, and just meeting different people from different places, and just learning, and just soaking up so much information — I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for me coming to school, for sure.”