It felt as if Mike Willey was about to run out of adjectives describing what star Michigan offensive guard Zak Zinter can bring to an NFL team.

“Whoever needs a tough, strong, durable, butt-kicking, earth-moving kind of guy,” Willey told as he coached Zinter in high school at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols in Cambridge, Mass.

Sure sounds like a player any NFL team could use, including the New England Patriots.

The Patriots have done their homework on Zinter, too. Zinter told he met with the Patriots at the NFL Scouting Combine last month and saw them at Michigan’s pro day. He also will have phone calls with the organization in the lead-up to the NFL draft.

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New England’s new regime headed by de facto general manager Eliot Wolf has stressed toughness and strong leaders when looking at draft-eligible players. Zinter certainly checks both those boxes.

The 6-foot-6, 309-pound lineman started 42 games for Michigan, with all but one of those appearances coming at right guard. He was also voted a captain by his teammates this past season and led by example by receiving First-Team All-American honors.

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Zinter has faced questions about his health as he broke his tibia and fibula in late November against rival Ohio State. Zinter, who did not participate in on-field drills at the combine or Michigan’s pro day, said his leg is feeling “pretty much 100%” now that he’s over four months removed from the significant injury. He’s targeted rookie minicamp for his return to the field.

Landing with New England would appeal to Zinter, even though he didn’t grow up as a Patriots fan. Zinter rooted for the Miami Dolphins with his family having season tickets. When he moved from Port St. Lucie, Fla., to North Andover, Mass., in the eighth grade, he still cheered on the Dolphins, but got an up-close view of the Patriots, and he can see himself returning to the Bay State to play in the NFL.

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“Playing for them, I think it would be awesome,” Zinter told “Being there when (Tom) Brady was there and they’re winning Super Bowls and all that stuff. I’ve seen the culture, the city. The fan base is unreal. I’d be close to friends and all that good stuff. I think it would be pretty sweet to play for them, for sure.”

The Patriots are a much different team now than the one Zinter watched as a high schooler. New England owned the worst record in the AFC last season at 4-13 and the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since winning Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams.

There’s no chance to play alongside Tom Brady or be coached by Bill Belichick, either. The Patriots and Belichick mutually parted ways after the season and Jerod Mayo took over at the helm.

But Zinter doesn’t see there being any less of an allure to play for the Patriots even with Belichick no longer a part of the organization.

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“I mean, football is football,” Zinter said. “Coaches change a good amount of time. But I think the culture and the locker room and all that kind of stuff really is what makes a team. I don’t think it necessarily has everything to do with the head coach.”

The Patriots could use the No. 34 overall pick in the second round or the No. 68 overall pick in the third round to select Zinter, who is expected to be a Day 2 pick. But drafting a guard is far from an area of need for the Patriots, who drafted three interior linemen last season in Jake Andrews, Antonio Mafi and Sidy Sow.

That might mean Zinter goes elsewhere, which he is fine with, too. He just wants to make an impact wherever he ends up.

“I think they’re going to get a physical, dominant, reliable player that they can trust to be out there,” Zinter said. “A guy that can help teams win on Sunday.”

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Featured image via Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK Images