Friday, June 18, 2010
A former college wrestler, Stephen Neal is one of only a few active Patriots who has three Super Bowl rings. (AP)
By Christopher Price
June 18, 2010
When it comes to minicamp, it’s kind of tough keeping an eye on everything — you have to watch everything all at once, or focus on a specific position group. But when I looked at the offensive line at work over the last week of camp, it was hard not to see veteran Stephen Neal working with rookie John Wise on more than one occasion.
The pairing makes sense — they share a collegiate wrestling background. While Neal didn’t play any college football (he was a collegiate wrestling champ), Wise had a limited college football career, playing for two seasons with Western Illinois before transferring to Illinois and becoming part of the wrestling team. (The Patriots have brought in ex-college wrestlers before — Jermail Porter had a cup of coffee with New England last spring before getting released.)
Neal took a few years before he was able to crack the starting lineup — Patriots coach Bill Belichick recalled Neal’s first days in camp as “starting from zero.”
“He didn’t know how to put his pads on,” Belichick would say later.
Wise isn’t quite starting from zero, according to Neal, who spent time with Wise after practice working on technique.
“I really like the guy,” Neal said of Wise. “He’s a tough kid, a strong guy. Athletic. I’m just trying to tell him … I don’t try to tell him what to do, I just try to … if he asks me a question, I just say ‘Hey, you could have your stance a little bit better this way or that way.’ Just a few little things that I see that might be able to help him. That’s about it.”
If Wise has half the career that Neal has had, he should consider himself lucky. Neal has been in the league since 2001, and has gained a reputation as one of the toughest guards and best run blockers in the AFC.
“It’s great having Steve here. He’s been through the whole ordeal — he knows exactly what I’m going through,” Wise said. “When he sees something I’m doing, I’m sure he can relate to it. He can show me ways to better myself.”
Wise is not only trying to pick up the game of football again, he’s trying to do it at a new position. In college, he was a defensive tackle. Now, he’s working with the New England offensive line.
“Coming from a wrestling background, I can tell you wrestling isn’t an easy sport either,” Wise said. “But I’m not going to compare whether wrestling or football is harder. I’m just thankful for the great opportunity the Patriots gave me to come here. I just put my best foot forward every day and hope to do the best I can.”