Patriots second-year nose tackle Vince Wilfork may not lead the team in sacks or tackles but statistics are not usually a solid indication of his play. In the Patriots' 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is the equivalent of an offensive lineman. His job is to protect the linebackers much like an offensive lineman protects the quarterback.
"We play a two-gap system, so I have both A-Gaps," said Wilfork, referring to the gaps between the center and the guards. "My job is to strictly take the center and occupy him. If my assignment is to take on two or three guys, I have to take those guys and occupy them."
To put that into perspective, imagine having to battle three 300-pound plus NFL lineman on every play for 60 minutes and then scrape off their blocks and make a tackle on a ball carrier. Doesn't sound easy, does it? But you'll never hear Wilfork complain about his position, because to him it's not about putting up individual statistics, it's about winning.
"It's a tough job. A lot of people don't have respect for nose tackles. I think we play one of the hardest positions on the field. We are in the trenches and fighting every play. But that's my job. I love to hit."
As a rookie, Wilfork helped the Patriots win their third Super Bowl in four seasons. "I can't explain it. You have players who have been in this league for so long and haven't even gotten to a Super Bowl. And here I am as a rookie winning a Super Bowl."
Wilfork's success on the field, both in college at the University ofMiami (where he also won a national championship in 2001) and the NFL, has been well chronicled, but more importantly to Wilfork, he strives to be a champion off the football field. He is family man and when the massive nose tackle talks about his wife and children, he gleams with pride.The best part ofWilfork's Sunday routine is not swallowing up linemen and sacking quarterbacks, but going home after games and seeing his family.
"Just looking at my wife and kids when I go home, it just brings joy to me. I put aside everything, all the football and everything that's going on in my life, and be there for them," he said.
It sounds like the 24-year-old defensive lineman has it all: a beautiful family, championship rings, happiness and financial security. But there is a void in his life that no amount of money or success can fill. Three years ago,Wilfork lost his father, David, to kidney failure. Just six months following his death, his mother, Barbara, unexpectedly passed away from a stroke. Wilfork was extremely close to both of his parents and they never missed one of young Vince's games growing up in Florida.
"My parents were my two closest friends and then they were gone. Life didn't matter to me,"Wilfork recalled. The loss of his parents hurt so much that he considered quitting football. "When my mother went into the hospital [after her stroke], I missed a game to go see her, and when she passed, it was right before a bowl game and I was thinking about hanging it up," Wilfork said.
"I was thinking, 'My career is over because the two things in my life that I love the most, what I'm playing for, are gone.'" Although he seriously considered hanging up his cleats, it was not what his parents would have wanted. "Friends and coaches talked to me and basically it came down to one thing: 'If they were here today, what would they want you to do?'"
Heeding their advice, Vince continued playing football and was drafted by the Patriots in the first round (21st overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft.
Although his parents have passed away, he carries their set of values and principles, to not only his kids but also to children in the community who seek guidance.Vince and his wife Bianca started a mentoring program called "Be a Champion for a Child." Vince serves as a father figure to children who may not have adult guidance in their life.He said he wants all kids who weren't as fortunate as him growing up with two loving parents to have someone in their life like David and Barbara Wilfork.
"The main thing my parents taught me was to treat people the way you want to be treated. Always have respect for everyone. I carry those values to this day," he said.
Wilfork is also carrying with him a very special medallion his wife Bianca gave to him.
"It shows his parents' prom picture from when they were in high school," Bianca said. "We also have a painting of Vince that shows his parents behind him, in the clouds, each one touching him on the shoulder. And he's working so hard to make sure the kids know about their grandparents."
Wilfork's work on and off the field is truly a testament to David and Barbara Wilfork. They would be proud of the way their son has handled success and the way he has battled through tough times. Now he is keeping their memory alive through the values they instilled in him.