Football journey: Steve Gregory

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Safety Steve Gregory never received the call most prospects dream of on draft day. He had to go the underdog route as a rookie free agent.

But how's this for a consolation prize?

As Gregory was hurrying home from a round of golf this past March, the hope to make it home before veteran free agency officially began, his phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line was Bill Belichick.

"It was like 15 or 20 minutes into free agency, and he called and told me that they wanted to bring me in and talk to me, that they were really interested in me," Gregory recalled Friday. "It was exciting that they thought enough of me to give me the opportunity to come out here and play."

Gregory, who turns 30 on Jan. 8, had never been wooed so aggressively in the NFL. After signing a three-year contract with the Patriots, he earned a starting spot and has played in 11 games this season, missing four earlier in the year with a hip injury.

Gregory shared his "football journey" with ESPNBoston.com:

When he first started playing football: "I first started when I was 9 years old, playing Pop Warner in Staten Island. I had played out in the street with my cousins and father before that, and I just always loved the game."

First positions: "I played quarterback all through Pop Warner, and safety. In high school, I played running back, quarterback and safety."

Top memories at Curtis High School (Staten Island, N.Y.): "We won championships; the first one, when I was a junior ... "

On what the recruiting process was like coming out of high school: "I had narrowed it down to Maryland, Rutgers and Syracuse; I wanted to stay close to home. My high school coach was a big fan of Syracuse. He knew some of the guys up there and he really wanted me to go up there. When I went up and visited I kind of fell in love with the place. I committed to them after my junior year."

Top memories at Syracuse, where he was a four-year starter: "Just everything. We went to a couple Bowl games -- my first year we went to the Insight.com Bowl, when Dwight Freeney and everybody was there, and that was fun. We went to the Champs Sports Bowl my junior year. Just the overall experience of playing in some big-time games and traveling around and being a part of Division I football."

Going unselected in the 2006 NFL draft: "It wasn't necessarily a surprise. It was more of a surprise when I wasn't invited to the combine and all those things, because I did have a pretty good career at Syracuse. It was what it was. I knew in my mind that I could play in the NFL, so when my opportunity came in San Diego, I worked my butt off and made the team."

Why he wasn't invited to the combine: "It's just one of those things. There are so many college football players. You can see it throughout the league, so many guys get overlooked. Not everyone is a first-round draft pick. Some guys may have the ability to be one, but for some reason, they get overlooked and get mixed in the shuffle. I didn't look into it too much."

Choosing San Diego as a rookie free agent: "I had 15 or 20 teams that were willing to bring me in as a free agent, but there was a DB coach there, Brian Stewart, and he had coached me at Syracuse my freshman year, then left. Of all the places, especially as a free agent, I figured I should go somewhere where there was a familiar face and a guy that knows me and knows my work habits."

Top memories of his time with the Chargers: "One of my favorite years was when we played the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game [in 2007]. That was as close as I've been to the Super Bowl. Just being out there, in San Diego, it was a great city. I had a lot of fun out there, me and my wife. Family came out to visit. It was a great team to play for, a great organization. I have a lot of respect for those guys over there. I met some great friends. Eric Weddle was the best man at my wedding. He's going to be a lifetime friend of mine; we share the same agent [David Canter] and things like that. So meeting all the people out there, becoming friends with the guys on the team, getting to play with guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Lorenzo Neal and Antonio Gates, it was a lot of fun."

When he knew he made it as a rookie free agent: "When you're undrafted, you don't really see moments like that. You're just hitting the grindstone, working hard. I was making my way on special teams -- blocking guys, tackling guys, running down kickoffs at a time when you could have four-man wedges and giving up my body to prove that I belong in the NFL. I was on the practice squad the first week, then I was moved up -- we played out in Baltimore and Quentin Jammer went down and I came in to play corner -- and I've been on the roster since. As the years went on, I developed and got more opportunities on defense and things like that."

Coming to the end of his contract in 2011 with Chargers: "Obviously, it's always a question, 'Where am I going to be? Am I going to re-sign with San Diego? Am I going to have an opportunity somewhere else?' When Bill called, I was excited, not only because of the [Patriots'] organization and the respect I have for that, but also to be close to home. I grew up in New York City. To be able to come back home and play close to my family; my wife grew up in upstate New York ... the transition of coming back closer to home was really great for us. It was a perfect situation."

Life as a Patriot: "It's great. This is a first-class organization. The guys work hard here. There are a lot of great guys on this team, and everybody is interested in winning and being good team guys. There are a lot of good character guys in this locker room. It's really a special place to be."

Favorite players/teams growing up: "I was a big Emmitt Smith fan, big Barry Sanders fan. I liked Steve Atwater, a safety for the Broncos; I remember that Super Bowl when he was just knocking people out. I was more into players than teams. My friends were Jets and Giants fans. I followed them as well growing up as a kid, just being from New York City, but I probably liked the Cowboys the most because I was such an Emmitt Smith fan."

Role models growing up: "I was always looked up to my father [Steve]; he was a police officer in New York City. I looked up to him a lot. I didn't really see athletes as role models to me, because I was looking up to my father so much. It was the way he worked, the things he taught me -- to do well in school, keeping me on track, to be a good person and things like that. We had a really good relationship growing up and we still have a great relationship now. He's probably my best friend, so it's awesome."

What he loves about football: "Just the competitiveness, the camaraderie that you have with the guys, going out on the field with 11 guys and trying to win a game. The effort and time that we put into this all week long, there is no better feeling than putting that in and going out on Sunday and executing and winning a football game. It's not an individual thing. It takes all the guys on your team to be out there, working together and doing things right together. It's something special."

Summing up his football journey: "It's definitely far from over, if I have any say in it. It's going well so far. Hopefully I can keep grinding away. There is still a lot to accomplish, a lot to get done. It's still in the process."