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Happy and healthy Wilfork ready to go

Vince Wilfork's difficult offseason appears to be in the distant past as he prepares for his 11th year in New England.

It seems like old news at this point but there was time this spring when Vince Wilfork was a daily concern in Patriot Nation. Earlier this offseason, as free agency kicked off in mid-March, Wilfork was an aging veteran dealing with the prospect of rehabbing a serious injury while facing the very real possibility of taking a pay cut.

None of that angst was anywhere to be seen on Thursday as the Patriots closed out mini-camp with an abbreviated practice followed by a conditioning run. Wilfork spoke to reporters from more than 10 minutes and sounded like a recharged youngster rather than an 11th-year veteran coming off a ruptured Achilles, the first significant injury of his career.

!Wilfork said he's feeling great physically and held no ill will toward the only organization he's now during his time in the NFL.

"I'm not surprised. I know there are a bunch of stats and everything going against a person my size with the injury. Right now, I can't ask for it to be any better," said Wilfork, who's been active throughout the spring and has seen his workload gradually increase.

"It was never in my mind that I thought I could never come back from this. From the time they told me I did, from the time I had the surgery, I knew that I was going to be back ready to rock and roll. I knew it was going to be tough. I know how tough the injury is, but I tell myself over and over again, I'm not the average person. I just do things a little differently than most people that had this injury, or the size of people that had this injury.

"I'm going to stick with my guns until I prove myself wrong. That's always going to be my motto. I'm going to be true to myself."

The same could be said of his contract situation. After reportedly expressing his desire to be released when he was asked to take a pay cut, potentially depriving him of the final year of his contract that would have counted for more than $11.5 million against the cap, cooler heads prevailed and the sides agreed on a three-year, incentive-laden extension.

Listening to the captain talk on Thursday, it would be impossible to think things ever got to a contentious level in the first place.

"That's a dead issue. I'm here for a reason," Wilfork said. "If I didn't believe the things that were brought to me, I wouldn't have signed it. I'm not upset. I'm not holding any type of grudge. Business is business and everybody handles business in different types of ways.

"In my career, I think the right thing was for me to be up here with my family and teammates, and a staff I've been around for so long, and an organization I know. It was a smart decision for me and my family to be here. If we think it wouldn't work, we wouldn't be here. That is something that happened a while ago and that's the first time I've actually talked about it. It's a non-issue."

So was there ever a time when he thought he wouldn't be a Patriot?

"Who knows what might have happened? I could have gotten drafted somewhere else too. It's always something 'What if?' If the if was fifth, we'd all be drunk, right?" Wilfork joked.

Even while discussing the ugliness of the contract negotiations, Wilfork remained upbeat. After his joke, he turned his attention toward training camp. Like many veterans who deal with missing significant action for the first time of their careers, Wilfork expressed loads of excitement and enthusiasm with regard to his return.

"I think this year is probably going to be one of the most exciting times in my career to actually put pads on and be able to practice," he said. "Every year I'm excited but I think this year is going to be a little more special because of what I've been through and how far I came along.

"I'm very happy. Excited. It's been a long time being able to step out here with the guys. Just to take that step is very important to me. We still have a lot to do, but I'm very confident where I'm at. I'll continue to just get better. It's going to take time but I'm very positive where I'm at right now. [Dr.]Thomas Gill, with the surgery and everything, everything went well. It healed up fine. It's just knocking the rust off.

"Being away from football a long time, any time you look back at doing something you love, it's always a positive. That's where I'm at right now -- having fun still, still love the game, teammates. I'm just happy to be back."

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