FOXBORO, Mass. — Shortly after Malik Gant arrived at Gillette Stadium on Friday for rookie minicamp, Steve Belichick sat the undrafted safety down in the film room.
On the screen flashed clips of arguably the best New England Patriots safety of the Bill Belichick era: Rodney Harrison.
Harrison, who was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame earlier this week, still is held in extremely high regard inside the halls of Gillette, especially by Steve Belichick, the team’s current safeties coach.
When asked about Harrison during a media session Friday afternoon, the younger Belichick’s eyes lit up.
“I watched him with my rookie, Malik, this morning,” he said. “Rodney Harrison is my favorite football player. I looked up to him for — I still look up to him. He had such a tremendous outlook on the game. He played so hard. We signed him when I was in high school, and I’ve idolized him ever since. I still talk to him to this day.
“Being a coach’s kid when you’re that young, people kind of treat you differently, but Rodney really humbled me and forced me to learn it the hard way, which I still appreciate to this day. I can’t say enough good things about Rodney. He’s my favorite football player.”
Harrison was a ball-hawking thumper during his six seasons with New England, intercepting 15 passes and dishing out bone-rattling hits with regularity.
While we’re in no way comparing him to the all-time Patriots great, Gant played with a similar tenacity during his college career at Marshall. Over his final two seasons, the 21-year-old racked up 195 tackles, 15 1/2 tackles for loss, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions while ranking first among draft-eligible safeties in run-stop percentage, per Pro Football Focus.
Considering the overall age of the Patriots’ safety unit — Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung will be 32 this summer; Duron Harmon is 28 — Gant will be a player to watch in training camp.
Thumbnail photo via Marshall University Athletics