Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, by nature, don't come along very often.
So, when defensive tackle Terrance Knighton was offered one – the chance to play for the team he has supported as a fan since he was a youth – he knew in his heart that it was meant to be.
"I just prayed on it, talked to a lot of my family, and just followed my heart," Knighton said via media conference call Thursday. "My heart told me to go to New England."
The Hartford, Conn. native, entering his 8th NFL season, returns home to New England after stops in Jacksonville (four seasons), Denver (two), and Washington (one).
"When you're born in Connecticut, at birth you have a choice… I chose to go with Boston," Knighton explained, referring to the state's proximity to both Boston and New York, two major cities with large, passionate sports fan bases.
"I'm a big Celtics fan, Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots fan growing up. It means a lot, not only to me, but also my family."
Last week, Knighton chose New England again, signing a 1-year deal with the Patriots that could pay him an estimated $4.5 million, if every incentive is met. However, if media reports about the contract's structure are accurate, it will probably end up being about half that amount, because so many of the incentives are considered "Not Likely To Be Earned."
One of the clauses in Knighton's contract is weight-related.
He's in the 6-3, 350-pound range, but when asked Thursday for precise numbers, Knighton politely declined, citing the language in his contract which prohibits him from discussing it publicly.
However, the veteran free agent is normally self-deprecating about his weight, which is high even by NFL standards, and he continued to do so this week on his Twitter account.
As Knighton pointed out on social media and on his conference call, he has made his physical condition a point of emphasis this offseason. He revealed that he had a long discussion with the team's nutritionist when he made his free agent visit to Foxborough.
"Last year, I was heavier than I am right now. I'm in a lot better shape," he declared.
"Contractually, I have weights I need to hit. Whatever the coaches want me to play at, that's what I'll be. I worked really hard this offseason and I'll continue to work throughout the offseason program… looking forward to it…. It won't be a problem. As a player, you do what you're told."
Knighton is already talking like a Patriot, but he acknowledges that he has a lot to learn about the way business is conducted in this, his fourth NFL organization. Judging by his comments, though, he won't have much trouble fitting in here.
"Someone like me who's been a starter in this league for seven years, seeing a lot of football and playing with great players, I just try to rub off on the young guys, be honest with guys. I've always been that way. Always about doing the right thing…. You have to hold guys accountable. When I'm around the coaches and hear the message to the team, what direction they want to go in, I'll definitely be one of the guys reiterating that in the locker room."
One of the players who used to embrace such a role was Vince Wilfork. Not coincidentally, Wilfork was also one of the people Knighton admired as a young player rooting for the Patriots, and someone whose advice Knighton sought before deciding to sign with New England.
"He told me it's a grind, but at the end of the day, it's football. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization. Obviously, big shoes to fill," Knighton remarked about Wilfork. "I'm not thinking about that, though. Just going to come to work every day and create my own niche in the organization."
But what if that "niche" means being part of a rotational personnel grouping? The Patriots did a lot of substituting on the d-line last season, and Knighton recently Tweeted that he did not like being associated with that word.
Thursday with the media, Knighton clarified what he meant by his online remarks.
"I don't think any player should label themselves as 'rotational' … It wasn't a personal attack, just me having the utmost faith in myself, that I'll be in great shape and ready to play …. Wherever the team needs me, but obviously, I'll compete to be a starting player on this team.
"I pride myself on playing many different styles," he added. "Obviously, the Patriots are known for having a lot of different looks on defense. I'm just going to work as hard as I can. I don't believe in just showing up on Sundays… a lot I have to learn, this being my fourth team. I'll just look to the coaches and ask a lot of questions. I'll be open-minded.
"I'm happy about being in New England. Now the work starts. I'll take it a day at a time. If I'm blessed to put on a Patriots jersey on Sundays, I'll probably have the most ticket requests of anyone on the team," he chuckled.
"It'll be fun."