Prior to playing in the National Football League, Patriots guard Stephen Neal was a world-class wrestler, capturing the U.S. Freestyle Championship, the Pan-American Games title and the World Championship. Despite not playing football in college, the six-foot-four-inch, 305-pounder was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent before the 2001 season. The California native has excelled as an offensive lineman and is now in his third season as the Patriots starting right guard.
Neal sat down with us to answer some questions about his life both on and off the football field.
What was your favorite hobby as a kid? I would say playing sports in the front yard with my brothers. We played everything imaginable.
Who was your favorite wrestler growing up? I wasn't allowed to watch pro wrestling on TV when I was younger. In high school, my favorite freestyle wrestler was Bruce Baumgartner, who was an Olympic champion.
What is your favorite Web site? I'm not really a big Internet guy, so I don't have one.
What is your favorite type of food? Mexican.
What is your favorite movie? Definitely The Big Lebowski.
What was your favorite subject in school when you were growing up? Physical education ... does that count?
What is your favorite thing to do on a day off? Spend time with the family. We try to do a family trip every time. We recently went to Mystic Aquarium.
Who is your favorite musical artist? Slightly Stoopid. They are kind of reggae/punk.
OFF THE FIELD
What is one thing you wish you were better at? I wish I could jump higher. That way I could dunk any time I wanted. I can dunk now, but I was better when I was lighter.
What is something that annoys you? There are two things. First would be the drivers on Route 1 that drive in the fast lane but are going under the speed limit. Second, is Rosevelt Colvin's love for the New England media. He conducts too many interviews and everyone is always in my locker, which is next to his.
What scares you the most? Probably not being able to protect my family.
If I turned on the CD player in your truck right now, what would I hear? I made a mix CD of some cover songs.
What is the toughest thing about you that your parents had to put up with when you were younger? I was stubborn. I should have listened to their advice more on certain things.
What is the toughest thing about you that your wife has to put up with? During the season I don't help her out as much as I should. I get a little messy around the house during the season.
What is up with the entire offensive line growing beards? We actually have to have a meeting about that because we don't have a good game plan. Mine has come in pretty good but it is starting to get a little annoying. I can't eat soup or ribs at a restaurant because everything gets stuck in the hair.
The other linemen said you could take down the most food of the group. Is that true? I used to be able to eat a lot more and burn it off. I get full a little bit faster now.
After your football career is over, do you see yourself as a member of the WWE? I would probably go back into real wrestling. I might compete for a while and then do some coaching. Wrestling keeps you in pretty good shape and is a good way to burn some calories.
Who is the best-dressed player in the locker room? Tom Brady. I can say for sure it is not Rosevelt Colvin.
ON THE FIELD
When did you realize you had a legitimate shot at playing in the NFL? I always thought I had a chance. I would probably have to say in the preseason of my second season.
How have your skills as a wrestler translated to football? I think it helps me get out of bad positions. Sometimes I make mistakes on the field technique-wise and it allows me to recover. It helps with leverage too.
When you first started playing football, you were on the defensive side of the ball. What was that like? It was fun. I just wasn't very good.
In your mind, what makes a great teammate? Someone who is accountable and believes in everyone else out there. They have to get into the trenches and work just as hard as everyone else.
THIS OR THAT
Play in the rain or play in the snow? Snow.
Cook a meal or call for delivery? I'm a pretty good cook. I can make just about anything. My wife and I make some good Mexican food.
Make a call or text message? Make a call.
Pancakes or French toast? Biscuits and gravy.
Better boy band: NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? I don't know. I'm not much of a musical person, and that is definitely not my kind of music.
Bungee Jump or Skydive? I don't think I would do either. If I had to choose, I would probably skydive.
JUST FOR FUN
If you could change one rule in the NFL, what would it be? That's a tough one. I would have the refs enforce defensive holding more.
If you had a free round-trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go? The logical choice would be my hometown of San Diego. If it were an international trip, I would go to London.
Who is the smelliest player in the locker room? Rosevelt Colvin.
If you were a professional wrestler, what would be your finishing move? The power double leg. You run as fast as you can and then spear the opponent and run through them.
Which teammate is most likely to settle down in New England after their career is over? Russ Hochstein. His soon-to-be wife has all the say, and he'll have to live wherever she tells him to.