VERMILLION — It’s not entirely accurate to say that Darin Greenfield had never played on the defensive line until he arrived at the University of South Dakota.

He remembers the one exception.

“There was one game against Central Lyon where we had a five-man front because they were such a heavy run team,” Greenfield said Thursday, with a smile.

Other than that, Greenfield — who hails from Sheldon, Iowa — was a linebacker.

It’s what he always played.

It was the position that brought him to USD as a walk-on in 2015.

“But I had never really put my hand in the dirt until here,” Greenfield said during USD’s football media day gathering at the DakotaDome.

Well, turf, but you get the idea.

Either way, he’s since switched positions — the current coaching staff moved him to the line — since he joined the program and is now a preseason All-American. And in the eyes of head coach Bob Nielson, is a “great story in college football.”

The coach is right.

Greenfield is a great story. He’s the kind of player you want to root for.

He was promised nothing when he arrived at USD — walk-ons certainly have a steeper climb — and then realized when a new coaching staff arrived in 2016 that he’d have to suck up his pride and move to a new position.

“It was like, ‘Wow, maybe I will be able to play,’” Greenfield said. “I actually saw the field, and I’ve never looked back from there.”

No kidding.

The junior was last week named to the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top defensive player in the FCS. Last year was Greenfield’s first as a full-time starter for the Coyotes, and he responded with 19.5 tackles for loss (fifth most in the country) and nine sacks (18th most in the country).

From walk-on to All-American.

“Shows you what hard work and dedication to something can do,” Nielson said Thursday.

“He’s a great example.”

It’s that hard work and dedication that allows Greenfield to succeed. He’s certainly not going to wow you with his size — he’s a bit smaller than most linemen — or his speed — he joked that he’s faster than most of the offensive linemen but not quite fast enough to play linebacker.

So defensive line is where he calls home.

“It’s all about finding your role,” Greenfield said.

That’s the message he and some of the other more experienced guys on the team impart to the incoming freshmen, he added: Be patient and find a way to make an impact.

It could be on the scout team, or on special teams, or in a starting role. It doesn’t matter.

“You have to accept your role,” Greenfield added.

And Greenfield’s role is now defensive leader.

Nielson raved about Greenfield’s technique and understanding of the position, as well as how hard he plays — “exceptionally hard every snap.”

There’s more than that, though.

“The other thing that makes him a really good leader is the fact that he elevates the guys around him,” Nielson said.

It’s a quality former Coyote quarterback Chris Streveler had, according to Nielson. Streveler, who guided USD to the FCS playoffs for the first time last year, controlled the huddle with his presence and his expectation that everyone around him give their all.

“Darin, as a guy in the huddle, is going to elevate those guys around him to give their very best as well,” Nielson said.

Of course, like they were for Streveler a year ago at this time, expectations are understandably high for Greenfield.

“There’s a little pressure, I’m not going to lie,” Greenfield said.

He was named to the preseason all-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team and to the STATS preseason All-America team, but maintained Thursday that he can’t be focused on accolades like those.

“The overall goal for me is to win the game,” Greenfield said.

That’s starting to happen more and more in Vermillion.

The Coyotes have doubled their win total in each of Nielson’s first two seasons, and reached the second round of the FCS playoffs last fall. It’s all part of the ‘culture’ that coaches and players talk about.

“We’ve been working on that for two years, and now it’s really catching on,” Greenfield said.

‘Culture’ only leads to success if everyone is on board, and as he added, that’s exactly the case in Vermillion.

“They’re putting everything into the team, so that when it comes in November and December, we’re still playing football,” Greenfield said.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

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