Ethan "Big E" Greenidge celebrates with his family, brother Jaron, left, father Robin, mother Xann and sister Tori at their home in Flanders April 28.

As the final round of the NFL draft was nearing its conclusion, Ethan Greenidge’s cellphone began to get flooded with phone calls and texts. The Flanders native and former Blue Waves star was suddenly the center of attention after waiting countless hours to hear his name called. Coaches from all over the NFL wanted to check in with the offensive lineman from Villanova University.

“I was getting a bunch of calls from teams that didn’t even have any picks left but who wanted me really bad,” Greenidge said. “They were saying if I ended up going undrafted they really want me there.”

Greenidge did ultimately go undrafted but it ended up being more of a blessing than anything else.

“A team could’ve drafted me and I could’ve ended up in a really bad situation,” the 6′-5″ 337-pound lineman said. “They could’ve already had a bunch of really good lineman on their team and the opportunity to make the 53-man roster would have been more slim.”

That’s the end goal, after all: to make the 53-man roster for the regular season. An invite to training camp is nice but of course nothing is guaranteed. As many as 90 players are on the roster as camp begins.

Once the last pick in the draft was announced, contract offers to join NFL teams for training camp started to pour in for him. Greenidge, as a result, was given the chance to sift through the options with his agent and figure out the best situation to succeed. They looked through rosters, draft picks, needs, coaches and the team he and his agent felt most comfortable with was the the New Orleans Saints.

“They didn’t take many lineman in the draft,” Greenidge said.

The only offensive lineman the Saints drafted was center Erik Mccoy from Texas A&M. He will fill a hole vacated by the sudden retirement of long-time starter Max Unger.

“I won’t have as much competition from other rookies in my position in camp there,” Greenidge said. “There was also things to take into account such as taxes but overall we felt like it was the best situation for me to make the team. It was the best fit.”

The Saints have also been interested in Greenidge from the very beginning which made the decision to go with them a little easier.

“They liked me a lot before the draft,” he said. “I talked to them a bunch of different times. I knew they were invested in me but the shoulder thing was just hard for their general manager to get passed to actually draft me. But still I got picked up by them and it’s a blessing to do what I’m doing.”

The road ahead for Greenidge is now as clear as can be. All the hoopla has settled down, he has his contract signed to join the Saints, he’s finishing up his rehab on his shoulder labrum, and is now looking forward to offseason workouts.

“It’s time to ball,” Greenidge said. “Back to good ol’ football.”

Organized team activities (OTAs) start May 20, where the team will start to learn schemes and plays and build on the mental side of football as they prepare to put on shoulder pads and go full contact for minicamp, where he will showcase his skills to earn a spot on the roster. To make the roster he has to prove his shoulder is 100-percent healed. He has to show that he belongs — that he’s better than the others competing against him in his position group. His work is far from finished.

An NFL-themed party awaited Greenidge at his Flanders home.

Greenidge, 21, will move down to New Orleans in about two weeks to settle in to his surroundings before he officially joins the team. What does he look forward to most in New Orleans?

“I’ve never been there before. I’ve seen Mardi Gras on TV a few times. That’s about it. But I heard the food’s good so I’m looking forward to that,” Greenidge replied. “Everyone keeps talking about the food.”

Greenidge arrived home in Flanders today and found himself surrounded by family and friends arriving at his parents home to congratulate him and wish him luck.

The whole experience and the outpouring of love from the community has humbled him.

“I just want to say thank you to everybody,” he said. “To the town of Riverhead, to my family, to my friends for supporting me. It’s hard coming out of a small town like this and making it to the big stage in the NFL. It’s really helped me achieve my dream. I did it for everybody. No matter what happens, if I’m in the NFL for two weeks or if I’m there for 10 years, at the end of the day we still made it.”

The New Orleans Saints finished first in the NFC South last year with a record of 13-3. Led by quarterback and future hall-of-famer Drew Brees, the Saints should be just as dominant for the upcoming season. When they open up against the Houston Texans on September 9, maybe we’ll see a new name on the sidelines for the National Anthem —”Greenidge” stitched on the back of one their patented black and gold jerseys.

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Michael Hejmej is a freelance writer, real estate agent and native of Riverhead.