Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Amazing" Stephen Neal ready for 2010

Neal has been with the Patriots since 2001.

By Christopher Price

February 17, 2010

Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal apparently isn’t ready to call it a career after all.

Neal’s agent Neil Cornrich told ESPN Wednesday that his client not only intends to play in 2010, he expects a “vibrant free-agent market for his services.”

“He’s going to be playing,” Cornrich told ESPN.

The news comes as a bit of a surprise, especially in the wake of his comments after the playoff loss to the Ravens where the 33-year-old guard spoke openly about the possibility of retirement.

“I’m not sure,” Neal said after the game when asked about whether or not he’ll be back in 2010. “I’m not sure how my body is going to feel. I’m not sure if I’ll keep playing, keep getting in these car accidents each week. I don’t know. We’ll have to find out — talk to the family, see what options are available.”

Considered one of the toughest players in the New England locker room — he has reportedly played through a myriad of injuries over the course of his career — the former collegiate wrestling champion joined the Patriots in 2001. After not playing football in college, he eventually won a spot with the Patriots. He worked his way up from the practice squad and earned three Super Bowl rings in the process. In his career, Neal has played in 78 games, starting 73, and earning the respect of Bill Belichick and his teammates.

“It is a wonderful story about a guy that with hard work, dedication, overcoming the setbacks of the injuries and the lack of playing experience, has turned into, really, a good football player,” Belichick said of Neal’s football journey.

“You have to be amazed at him,” center Dan Koppen said of Neal. “When you look at him on the field, especially when you see his wrestling tapes, you know what kind of athlete he is. And he shows it out there on the field. He’s more athletic than any other lineman that we have out there right now, bar none. I have no problem saying that. He just loves to work. He gets in there and he studies and he just wants to do better every day. When you have a guy like that with that athleticism, it’s hard to hold him down.”

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