]()JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – Last spring, after finishing up his college career as a National Champion at LSU, Randall Gay went undrafted. So, after playing in 42 career games for Nick Saban's Tigers, on a defense that had great similarities to the one that the defending Super Bowl Champions employ, Gay had to take the road less traveled to an NFL job.
Now, after signing as a rookie free agent with the Patriots, a team coached by Saban's close friend Bill Belichick, Gay is one of New England's two starting cornerbacks heading into Super Bowl XXXIX. After impressing in rookie camp, mini camp and training camp, Gay beat out veteran Terrell Buckley for the last spot in the Patriots secondary and hasn't looked back since.
Gay played in 15 games with nine starts this season, helping the Patriots fill the void left by injured starting corners Tyrone Poole and Ty Law. He finished the year with 38 tackles, two interceptions, six pass defenses and two fumble recoveries. But more than just the production, Gay now feels more like an experienced professional than a wide-eyed rookie.
"I have a lot of plays under my belt now," Gay said at Tuesday's media day at ALLTEL Stadium. "So I am much more comfortable."
Most of that comfort and on-field development has had to do more with watching film, studying opponents and learning a role in the New England defense than actually improving his level of play. For Gay, much of the motivation for that work has been provided by local and national media coverage that considered the Patriots "patchwork" secondary as the team's biggest weakness and a major reason why the franchise might not be able to defend its Super Bowl title.
"You just want to prove them wrong," Gay said. "We just wanted to show the so-called experts that they were wrong because they were really disrespecting us. We are just trying to show people that we can play. Asante [Samuel] and I just want to prove the so-called experts wrong."
With that said, Gay realizes his job isn't done. As the only New England defensive starter without Super Bowl experience, he has one more game left on his list of rookie challenges. And looking back at some of the highs, including a pair of regular season interceptions, and the lows, like getting beat for a long touchdown against the Steelers shortly after Law went down with an injury, Gay is remaining grounded and focused on the final goal.
"You are going to get beat," Gay said. "It happens. But we have all been prepared since day one. You don't ever know what to expect, but you have to be prepared for it here."
And so far, seemingly wise and experienced beyond his years, Gay has been. But there is one more challenge left to conquer before his rookie season can be considered a complete success. That final test comes Sunday evening at ALLTEL Stadium against Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and the Eagles.