FOXBORO, Mass. — Before linebacker Jerod Mayo became a star in New England, he was an inspiration in Tennessee.
Mayo's old roommate, Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, credited him with his success at the NFL level. Mayo and Ayers arrived at Tennessee together — Ayers was a linebacker at first, so they got to know each other quickly — and they soon forged a bond.
"I learned a lot from him," Ayers said Thursday over the phone. "He came in a little more mature than I was as a freshman, and I just watched how he prepared and worked. Being around him was a big influence, and it helped me get to where I am now just from being around him."
The two lived in the same dorm as freshmen before becoming roommates at an off-campus apartment as upperclassmen. That's where Mayo said the countless video game battles and wrestling matches took place, and he always liked to let everyone know who came out the victor.
"He never stops talking," Ayers laughed. "There are not too many funny stories that I can tell you. The ones that are really funny we've got to keep between each other."
The true bragging rights will come Saturday, though, when their teams meet at Gillette Stadium. Ayers already dispatched of one of his roommates — Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster — and he's got the second one in his sights.
Beyond football, they're excited to catch up for the second time in a month. And Ayers, who is coming off one of his better games, will get another opportunity to watch a close friend who inspired him to become a better player.
"He's a natural leader," Ayers said. "He definitely set the tone. He was always one of the first guys in the house to wake up and get going. He was always a leader. The qualities he's showing now in the league is what he showed in college. That's one of the reasons why we bonded together. We had the same goals in mind. I consider him to be like my brother."