Tattooed on Vybert Greene's right wrist are the words "Look Up."
It's one of several tattoos the St. Ambrose defensive back has acquired over the years, and serves as a constant reminder of who is looking down on him.
Greene's mother passed away seven years ago from cancer, but the message on his wrist continues to drive him on a daily basis.
"She said God’s always watching and he always has your back, and now she’s up there too so I always look to see and think about the guidance she would give me," Greene said.
Greene was a senior at Des Moines Lincoln High School when his mother, Deb Strother, was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain and lung cancer.
She passed away on Oct. 17, 2012, a date Greene has tattooed on his right bicep.
"She was kind of my rock," said Greene, the youngest of three. "She would go without just to make sure we had some stuff. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment and she would sleep on the couch just so we could be comfortable living in that space.
"I’m at peace with it. She taught me to be a strong man and not to ever look back and to always look up."
Before his mother died, Greene promised her he'd graduate from high school and did just that. However, his road to St. Ambrose has had some twists and turns.
Following high school, Greene enrolled at Iowa Central College as a wide receiver. Then, after two seasons with the Tritons, he enrolled at Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa, switching to defensive back in his second year with the Warriors.
In the second game of his senior season, Greene suffered a torn labrum and was granted a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility.
"It was a blessing in disguise because I wasn't really comfortable at the school I was at," Greene said. "I was going through some stuff at home so it gave me a chance to get my hands on my own wheel and take care of some other situations in my life."
Greene left Waldorf and spent two years working for the moving company Two Men and a Truck back in Des Moines before deciding to return to school this summer.
"I always knew I was going to come back, it was just a matter of when and where I was going to go," he said. "I don't want to not finish something I started. That's never been me."
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He knew current St. Ambrose wide receivers coach Lamont Johnson from their time together at Waldorf and was encouraged to join the Bees for his final season of eligibility.
Having been enrolled at two different schools prior, some of his credits didn't transfer over to St. Ambrose, so Greene had to work over the summer to become eligible to play this fall. The hard work paid off as he joined the Bees at the beginning of fall camp.
Now 24, Greene has made quite an impact this year. He's third on the team with 34 tackles and, at 6-foot-1, has added some length as well as some depth to the St. Ambrose secondary.
"He’s a big, long corner, he moves well for his size, and it’s a different presence we have out there from our other corners who are a bit undersized," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "He’s been thrown in the fire to where, with the success (junior cornerback Griffin) Zajac has had on the other side, teams go after him, and for the most part he’s held up pretty well and has done a great job for us."
The thing that sticks out most to Magistrelli isn't Greene's athletic ability.
"The thing I’ve been most pleased with Vybert is I think he’s really enjoying playing his last year of football," Magistrelli said. "He’s been nothing but positive, nothing but a great work ethic, nothing but, ‘Yes sir, no sir.’
"He’s a top-shelf guy."
Being away from the game for two years has made Greene appreciate it that much more. Despite the Bees being 3-4 heading into Saturday's game against St. Francis (Ill.), Greene has been positive, both at practice and even on social media.
As one of the oldest players on the team, he's also enjoying being something of a mentor for the younger players on the Bees.
"It’s really a blessing because I’ve witnessed what it’s like for people that don’t have the opportunity to get back into it and people that wished they really could," he said. "I had friends that never had this opportunity. I know this kind of stuff doesn’t happen for everybody so I don’t take it for granted."
A human performance and fitness major, Greene still has to complete one more year of classes before he can graduate, but that accomplishment is not something he's going to take lightly as he said his older brother and sister didn't go to college.
After graduation, he hopes to get involved with coaching at some level, helping younger players achieve their goals, like he's achieving his.
"I just want to help people get better for themselves and make sure their next foot is going forward rather than not knowing where to go," he said.
And everything he does is with his mother on his mind. When he needs some guidance, all he needs to do is look up.
"I can't tell you how many times I told her I was going to do so many great things like this and I just wanted to prove it to her and see her smile," he said. "I think it becomes a little more serious than her being proud of me. She never left me, she's always been there and for me to feel like I know that, makes her more at peace.
"And that's what makes me feel more comfortable about it all."