FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots players — they’re just like you!
Safety Obi Melifonwu grew up in Grafton, Mass. as a “huge Patriots fan,” so he was understandably very happy this week to sign with the team he cheered on as a kid.
“Everybody was excited, especially my family,” Melifonwu said. “Growing up here, I’ve been a huge Patriots fan. So, everybody’s excited. Everybody’s ready to watch me play.”
Melifonwu had some quality safeties to look up to as a young Patriots fan, watching those early-2000s teams.
“Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison are two I definitely watched,” Melifonwu said. “The team as a whole — Ty Law, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Deion Branch, all of them. I was a huge fan.”
Melifonwu, 24, is even young enough to have watched current Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung as a fan. Chung was drafted in 2009 when Melifonwu was 15 years old. McCourty was selected a year later.
“Yeah, those are two guys both have a lot of range, both can tackle,” Melifonwu said. “They definitely stress that here, tackling. Both can do a lot of things for the defense to play multiple roles, and that’s something that I envy, being a guy that can be versatile and help with a lot of different things.”
Melifonwu has mostly played safety during his football career, but given his elite athleticism (4.40-second 40-yard dash) for his size (6-foot-4, 224 pounds), he’s also been tried out at cornerback. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn’t dismiss the idea of moving around the UConn product.
Melifonwu listed game-winning kicks by Adam Vinatieri and the Patriots’ comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI as some of his best memories as a fan. His first game at Gillette Stadium actually came last week, however.
“I didn’t go to any (as a kid), but I did get a chance to go to the Green Bay Packers game,” Melifonwu said. “It’s been a dream my whole life to go to a Patriots game, so I’m glad I got to fill that before I got to play here.”
It was a close call.
“Being able to drive 40 minutes to home is something that makes me happy, makes my family happy and definitely makes my friends happy,” Melifonwu said.