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Patriots' Akins prays for wife's safety

Patriots' Akins prays for wife's safety

Patriots' Akins prays for wife's safety

By Michael Preston
Special to NFL.com

New England Patriots safety Chris Akins has his mind in two places at once. When his head is not buried deep in the playbook of the team he joined as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, it is somewhere in the Middle East. Akins spends much of his spare time hoping his wife Stephanie is safe serving her country in the Gulf.

"It's not that horrible," says Akins, when asked how he combines a personal life in turmoil with the rigors of NFL training camp. "I'm just concentrating on what I need to do to make this team. It's harder when I leave here after practice and start thinking about where she is."

A member of an Army military police unit, Stephanie Akins' last known destination was Kuwait City, Kuwait, where she arrived during Operation Iraqi Freedom earlier this year. On the rare occasion the couple talks on the phone, she is unable to divulge her exact location.

"It's been a while since I spoke to her," admitted Akins, whose mood is extraordinarily upbeat. "Hopefully she'll be home soon.

"Everybody asks me all the time how my wife is doing, but there's only so much I can tell them as I don't know the whole story. I'm glad that other players ask because it shows they're concerned too.

"I'm very proud of her. It's one of those situations that is very unique and I don't know anybody else whose wife is in the military. She's doing what she has to do, just like I'm doing what I have to do. I can't get killed or shot out here. I'm pretty sure she's taking good care of herself and they train for those types of situations over there."

The couple is also separated by circumstance from four-year-old son, Chris, Jr. "My mom is watching him now," explained Akins. "He's in Arkansas and he's missing both of us, but he's enjoying spending time with his grandparents. He's doing karate and riding his bike and he's having a fun time.

"He understands that his mom is in the military and every time he sees the war on TV or in the newspapers, he says 'Oh, Mommy is over there.' It's definitely going to be a positive experience for him."

Since arriving at Gillette Stadium in March via Cleveland, Green Bay, Dallas and Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, the four-year veteran has impressed coaches with his work ethic and determination to earn a roster spot.

"He's all business in terms of on the field and in meetings," says head coach Bill Belichick. "He's alert; he wants to get it right, it's important to him. He plays with a good attitude, he's tough, he knocks people around and he's a very competitive player. You really like the attitude that he brings to the field.

"This is a new system for him, a lot of new learning. We ask our safeties to do a lot and he's been very attentive in learning. He's a very hard-working kid."

The Packers released the former Arkansas-Pine Bluff standout after he clashed with coaches over a lack of playing time and he became similarly frustrated with the Browns.

"The whole experience was a positive-negative, if there is such a thing," he says. "I was upset because they didn't give me a chance to play and I complained very vocally about that. I learned a valuable lesson that getting in the coach's face like I did earned me a bad reputation. I was just as frustrated at Cleveland, but I learned to keep quiet, even though they put a guy in front of me on defense.

"Here in New England I think I've found the perfect fit for me. I've always played a special teams role and I understand that role and I have no problem being a special teams player. Defensively I want to make sure I'm ready if they call on me to go in and play."

Akins will also be ready to welcome wife Stephanie and son Chris, Jr., to Gillette Stadium, whenever that might be. "I hope that if they can't be here for the first game they'll definitely be here before the end of the season," he said.

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