Linebacker Jerod Mayo was presented with the 2011 Ron Burton Award at tonight's Patriots Charitable Foundation Kickoff Gala at Gillette Stadium. The yearly award goes to that player who best exemplifies the spirit of Ron Burton, the first draft pick in team history and a noted volunteer and community activist.
It is the Patriots' custom not to inform the winner beforehand, so as to add genuine suspense to the announcement. Accepting the award in front of a room full of teammates, coaches, administrative members and fans of the organization, Mayo said he was "overwhelmed" by the honor.
"I always look back on my childhood. I was that kid looking up to guys giving back to us. I feel like I'm in that same role now.
"Since the day I was drafted here," he explained, "the Kraft family really told me to be a good football player, but they also stressed to me to be good in the community and give back. I feel so fortunate to be in a great place like this, just to have role models like these past winners, Mr. Kraft and most importantly, Mrs. Myra Kraft. Not only did she give with her funds, but her time. She was on the front lines, digging the holes, putting the trees up and things like that. Seeing examples like that really means a lot to me and hopefully I can be an example for these younger guys. I appreciate it."
Helping out children, in particular, Mayo stressed, is a passion of his.
He finds himself in good company among the past winners to whom he referred in his acceptance speech. Guard Joe Andruzzi was the first winner of the award in 2003. He was followed by wide receiver Troy Brown (2004), left tackle Matt Light (2005), defensive lineman Jarvis Green (2006), defensive lineman Ty Warren (2007), linebacker/special teams captain Larry Izzo (2008), running back Kevin Faulk (2009), and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (2010). Among other noteworthy occurrences tonight, Faulk told reporters he expected to start the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) as he continues to recover from knee surgery. If that were to happen, he'd be out of commission until at least Week 7 of the regular season.
And in a Patriots tradition, rookies were given unsightly hair cuts by their veteran teammates as a form of good-natured initiation to the NFL. Among the more detestable looks were given to QB Ryan Mallett (some sort of arrow with a hole on the top of his head) and tight end Will Yeatman, whose entire head was shorn except for a chunk in the very front. O-lineman Nate Solder's 'do must've been even worse, but we couldn't see it at first because he was wearing a ball cap to cover it.
Later in the evening, a group of veterans brought Solder to the podium and made him take off his hat to reveal the old-man style haircut they gave him: bald on top, short on the sides. And even the veterans got in on the fun. Second-year punter Zoltan Mesko dressed up as the movie character Borat – complete with accent – to help auction off Patriots-themed items in the silent auction part of the evening.