- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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When offensive lineman Josh Kline first joined the New England Patriots in May as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Kent State, he was a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Now he’s one injury away from being in the starting lineup.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Kline projects as the top backup at guard on Sunday, and also played right tackle in college. Similar to former Patriots guard Stephen Neal, he has a wrestling background as he was an Ohio state champion in his senior year at Mason High School, posting a 45-1 record.
Thanks in large part to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the Patriots have had success in developing unheralded players into top contributors, and Kline, who turns 24 on Dec. 29, is one of the most recent blockers added to the pipeline.
He shares his “football journey”:
When he started playing football: “Third grade. I was in Mason Pee Wee. All throughout Pee Wee, I had to cut weight. I ran every morning, because I was always a couple pounds over the weight and I didn’t want to go up [one level] because I wanted to be with my friends. I wore soccer shoes, anything that was lighter, because you had to weigh in with all your stuff on.”
First positions: “Running back and linebacker. Then in middle school, I played some tight end and defensive end. In eighth grade, I moved to tackle, then played some center in my junior and senior year.”
What got him started playing football: “It was always my passion. Me and my brother always played in the backyard, with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood. It’s a game that I love and I still love it to this day.”
Favorite teams and players growing up: “I was a Browns fan. My dad was from Northeast Ohio. I didn’t really have any favorite players. I just loved watching the game.”
Recollections of rooting for the Browns: “It was really devastating when they moved. That kind of hurt us. I always watched the Bears too, because I was born in Chicago and my mother [Julie] is from there. I had them to watch when [the Browns] were gone. When they came back [in 1999], I watched them a lot, even though they had some bad years. Cleveland is a blue-collar city and that’s how the team is – through thick and thin, you stay with the team.”
Top memories of football at Mason High School: “The camaraderie that you had with your buddies. You have the ‘Friday Night Lights’ going. You still miss it to this day. You have nothing like that, in college or even now. You’ll have camaraderie but it’s not with the people you grew up with for most of your life.”
One high school moment that stands out: “Maybe when we came back from Middletown my senior year. It was a shootout game and it was fourth-and-goal from either the 2 or the 1, and they ran it behind me and my buddy, Pete Noxsel, the left guard, and I just remember him growling that we got it in [the end zone].”
Enrolling at Kent State: “I grew up, before moving in second grade, in Hartville, which is probably 10 miles south of Kent. My grandparents still live there. I was familiar with Kent and knew the area well. I preferred it to Akron. I got recruited by the other MAC schools but it was a combination of having a chance to play and an opportunity to help change the culture a little bit. We did my senior year. It was a good experience and I’m glad I picked it.”
A familiar face at Kent State: “I got recruited as a center, and when I got there my freshman year, I was on the team with Julian [Edelman]. That was his senior year. I didn’t play any games, so I kept my redshirt.”
One Kent State moment that stands out: “Probably this past year. Just winning all those games and having such a great season. It was just a totally different experience after those losing seasons. We didn’t finish it like I wanted to, but it was great to go to a bowl game, and great to go out with a bang like we did as a senior class.”
Expectations leading into the NFL draft: “You always want to get drafted, but I knew I would get picked up as a free agent somewhere if it didn’t happen. I really didn’t worry about it much. I went golfing on the first day of the draft with my buddies to get my mind off it. It’s hit or miss and you never know what can happen.”
Going undrafted and signing with the Patriots: “It wasn’t a surprise, but I just had to get on the phone with the teams that wanted to sign me as a priority free agent and see what my best chances were on making a squad. I picked the Patriots, because if you want to be the best you want to learn from the best. The Patriots are a great organization and I wanted to be part of that.”
Summing up his rookie season: “It’s definitely a learning experience, from being an undrafted rookie and moving up and down [between the practice squad and roster]. They told me I would do that, so it was to be expected. You just have to get better every day, that’s what I’ve learned.”
What he loves about football: “Hitting and the camaraderie that comes with it. It’s not like basketball and the other sports where you can have one person take over the game. You have playmakers out there who can do that in football, but if one person screws up, it’s going to screw up the whole play. It’s just a great team game.”
Role models in his career: My older brother [Chad] and my father [Rick]. My grandfather [Glen] too. I’ve had great role models in my life. I feel blessed to have those guys in my life, and some coaches growing up. There are a lot of people I could say helped me along the way.”
Summing up his football journey: “It was my dream to make it to the top tier in the NFL. I feel very blessed and very grateful to be in this position, and now it’s about setting other goals and strive to achieve those.”