Last season things went very well for Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest. He and his New England teammates captured their second Super Bowl title in three years and his alma mater, the University of Southern California, won a share of the NCAA National Championship with a victory in the Rose Bowl.
"I let everybody know it," McGinest said of his championship-filled season. "USC is a big part of my career and helped me get to where I am today. I think (USC Head Coach) Pete Carroll is doing a great job with those guys motivating them and bringing them in. He's putting the players out there and they are getting their education and also winning football games."
McGinest, who played for Carroll from 1997-99 in New England, was not surprised to see the coach have success at the college level despite posting a 27-21 record in his only three seasons with the Patriots. "Some things just don't work out," McGinest said of Carroll's brief NFL stint. "When he went to USC it was a perfect fit. I still think he is a great coach and I think he could still do well in the NFL if he wanted to but I think he is happy where he is right now."
McGinest is also plenty happy with his current situation. He has spent his entire 11-year NFL career with the Patriots and in a climate that includes salary cap casualties, injury settlements and June 1 veteran cuts, that is a rare accomplishment.
"It's really important and special to me especially with free agency and the salary cap and all of that," he stated. "There are a lot of guys moving around and there's no real loyalty because of the whole business side of football. It's kind of hard for guys to stay in one spot so I've been very fortunate. I've had some ups and downs but it's been great. I've been to three Super Bowls and won two of them and I think I've had a pretty good career so far. It's a great organization and a great team and when you have that, sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of the money for something special and that's what a lot of guys here do."
The man they sacrifice for is Pats Head Coach Bill Belichick who replaced Carroll in 2000. Since then, Belichick has posted a 39-25 record and won two Super Bowls by instilling the ultimate team mentality in his players. Although his roster is not littered with big-money stars, Belichick has his guys believing in the "team defense" model and that suits McGinest just fine. "I just think he understand the scheme and understands what players he can get certain things out of," McGinest explained. "With the type of scheme we run, he goes out and gets players that will fit the mold and he brings them in. Then it all works together just like the pieces of a puzzle."
McGinest's place in that puzzle is multi-faceted. He is a Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker with a knack for getting to the quarterback. He ranks fourth in team history with 62.5 career sacks including 5.5 in 2003. "You've just got to keep going and rushing and fighting," he said of chasing down quarterbacks. "I try to do a lot of studying of the guys that I am playing against and find out what some of their weaknesses are. It's also important to understand the kind of defenses we run and sometimes we've got to use a disguise and play games with them. Disguise is a big part of our defense and trying to keep the offense confused."
The Patriots certainly had offenses confused last season when the team ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense and fourth against the run. "We have a lot of versatile players who can do a lot of different things," McGinest offered. "That gives our coaches a lot more leeway to do a lot of different things. We don't always have the same guys in the same place. There are a lot of interchangeable players that can do a lot of different things and move around, pass rush, pass drop, cover guys. That gives the coaches the ability to do a lot more things like blitzing certain guys or show that one guy is coming and then he's not, it's someone else blitzing."
Since last season ended, McGinest has been quite busy. So busy he couldn't even find time for a getaway this summer. "I really haven't had time for any vacations or anything," he admitted. "We just had a baby girl and the rest of the time I've just been working out and relaxing. We had a long season and the last thing I want to do is get on a plane and start flying around to different places. I've just been working out and working with my entertainment company."
McGinest, who grew up in Long Beach, California with rap stars Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg, has always had a fondness for music and now has a blossoming second career. "I started an entertainment company and I have a label and a production deal with Interscope Records for a group called Metro and we are trying to finish the record up this summer," McGinest explained. "I also have some other artists on the label that we are developing. We also do a lot of charity work through the company. We go to schools and talk to kids and conduct football camps and small events."
Although the Patriots are trying to put last season's accomplishments behind them, the team took one last trip down memory lane recently. "We just got our Super Bowl rings a few weeks ago and that put us back in that mind-frame," McGinest said. "But we've been in a situation before where we've won the Super Bowl and missed the playoffs the next year. So I think we had fun with the ring ceremony and we recognize our accomplishments from last year but we are serious and getting ready to defend our title this year."
As far as which of his two Super Bowl rings he will wear, McGinest has a plan. "You just have to wear both of them," he laughed.