FOXBORO, Mass. — Just days after last month's NFL draft, Patriots safety James Sanders sat back in a chair at Gillette Stadium and expressed that he knew almost exactly what the trio of new Patriots from Florida are experiencing.
Sanders can relate to them as well as anyone in New England because he went through something similar. The Patriots drafted him in 2005, as well as Fresno State teammate Logan Mankins. The pair played in college under head coach Pat Hill, who had a great relationship with Bill Belichick.
The same can obviously be said for Gators head coach Urban Meyer. After coming from similar programs — at least in that one respect — Sanders is confident that rookies Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham and Aaron Hernandez will have a smoother transition into the Patriots' system.
"The team here, it’s a hardworking team," Sanders said. "Bill likes players in college who are hardworking players from hardworking programs. Like me and some of the Fresno State guys related to Pat Hill, we had a hardworking program there, kind of like an NFL program. Same thing with [Belichick], drafting a lot of Florida guys and a lot of guys that he sees in college, he tries to bring that same attitude over to the Patriots. He did a great job of drafting this year, and I’m looking forward to meeting those guys."
This marked the first time Belichick selected three players from the same college in one draft, but surprisingly, it was the seventh time in Belichick's 11 drafts as Patriots head coach that he took multiple players from the same program — also including Brandon Meriweather and Kareem Brown from Miami in 2007, Chad Jackson and Jeremy Mincey from Florida in 2006, Ty Warren and Bethel Johnson from Texas A&M in 2003, Rohan Davey and Jarvis Green from LSU in 2002, and Brock Williams and Jabari Holloway from Notre Dame in 2001.
And it's one of the many times Belichick has gone to the well with one of his solid connections in the college game. He has drafted six players who hailed from one of Nick Saban's programs, including Brandon Deaderick (Alabama) in 2010, Marquise Hill (LSU, 2004), Davey, Green, T.J. Turner (Michigan State) in 2001 and Greg Robinson-Randall (Michigan State) in 2000. Belichick has also drafted a total of four players from programs coached by former assistants Charlie Weis, Kirk Ferentz and Al Groh.
Sanders noted the similarities between Belichick and Pat Hill, who was one of Belichick's assistant coaches for four years in Cleveland.
"Every day in practice, [you're] working extremely hard," Sanders said. "Even the last practice before the game, you’re going out there working hard, not going through the motions. That’s the same thing being here on a Bill Belichick team. You work hard each and every day, and he demands that. To be successful, you have to give it your all each and every day."
And just to drive that point home, Hill and Meyer routinely convey to their players what they need to do on a daily basis to be successful — not just in college, but at the NFL level. When they can reference someone like Belichick, it only adds legitimacy to their teachings. Looking back, Sanders knows it helped him, and he knows it should definitely help the Patriots' three new Gators.
"[Hill] always talked about when he was with Bill in Cleveland, talked about for all the guys who wanted to have the opportunity to play at the next level, things that it took to succeed at that level," Sanders said. "Hard work, not only on the practice field, but in the weight room, in the film study, and you see that in your first day in the NFL. You see that when you come in here, and it’s a job each and every day — practice, weight room, film room, studying and stuff.
"A lot of the veterans, when I first got here, they taught us that, showed us the ropes, and we’re trying to show the young guys, bring the team along. A lot of the younger guys on the team, we have to bring them along, so they have the same attitude."