We sat down with offensive lineman Ryan Wendell to talk about some of his earliest and most memorable football memories. Wendell joined the Patriots in 2008 as an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. He has worked his way from the practice squad to the active roster to starting center.
Q: What made you want to play football as a kid?
RW: When I grew up, I was a soccer player so watching on TV, guys playing in the NFL, I wanted to play football because it was a chance to actually go out and hit someone.
Q: What's your first football memory?
RW: My first football memory would be the Super Bowl between the San Diego Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers [Super Bowl XXIX]. I barely remember the game but I remember being in California and that was the biggest thing that had happened. Everybody was really excited about that.
Q: Who pushed you to play football in the beginning?
RW: My mom was a big football fan and she pushed me to play football. She held me back when I was younger and made me wait until I got to high school. But once I got there, she became my biggest fan and one of my biggest motivators.
Q: Who pushed you to make a career out of football?
RW: As far as making a career out of football, I never really had many plans in it. I just liked playing the sport and wanted to keep doing it. After high school, I got the opportunity to play in college. After college, I've been fortunate enough to be here with the New England Patriots and keep a career going. I'd like to keep it going; I just never made any plans about it.
Q: Was there a moment when you realized you could play football professionally?
RW: When I was in college and seeing guys that would go on to the NFL, of course you dream about things like that. But I just tried to focus on what I was working on and that was always the college season. Once that ended, I just waited for a phone call, got one and I've just been working ever since.
Q: What is your favorite football memory that you've been a part of?
RW: My favorite football memory would have to be the first time that I stepped out onto the field in Foxborough. It was Monday Night Football, opening the season against the Bills. That was a great joy; I don't think I'll ever forget that moment.
Q: What emotions were you feeling that night?**
RW: That night, the first night I was ever out on the field, I was so excited. Monday Night Football is just a completely different level of excitement. The fans were going nuts and it was a close game, we battled until the end. I was experiencing a lot of different emotions that night.
Q: Were you in disbelief that it was real life?
RW: I made sure the first time I got on the field, to take a look in the stands and realize where I was for about 30 seconds and then I made sure to focus on my job.
Q: What emotions were you feeling when you got the call to sign with the Patriots?
RW: Coming out of college, I was an undrafted free agent. So, I'm sitting there at my house watching the draft with my parents. I didn't expect to get drafted but there was a possibility that it could come late. When the draft ended, I got a phone call from someone in the New England Patriots office. They put me on the line with Coach Bill Belichick. The fact that Bill Belichick, Super Bowl champion, Hall of Fame coach one day, gave me a call and took the time to ask me to come and sign as an undrafted free agent, was all it took for me to come out here.
Q: Were you excited to be coming to this organization?
RW: When the Patriots called, I was overjoyed. To be able to come to an organization like this, with the history that they have and the commitment to excellence, it was all a player could ask for.
Q: What did your family say?
RW: My family, they're just huge fans of mine. They were excited that I could go anywhere and I could keep pursuing my dream.
Q: What did your mom say to you?
RW: I don't remember exactly what my mom said to me when I found out I was going to be coming out here to New England, but I know much she has supported me and I know how overjoyed she's been since that moment and she's still my biggest fan today.
Q: Does she have your jersey?
RW: My mom had the first No. 62 Ryan Wendell jersey ever made I think.
Q: What does it mean to work your way from undrafted and on the practice squad to the team's starting center?
RW: Starting out as a practice squad player and then working my way to the active roster and then as a backup and then finally becoming the starter, it's everything I've wanted. Every player wants to have his role expanded and the only way to do that is to perform when you have an opportunity. I've been real blessed to have opportunities. Fortunately, with the coaches that I've had and the players that are around me that have helped me to get better at the sport that I play, I've been able to take advantage of those opportunities. It's been a great ride and I just hope it keeps going.