Saturday, September 28, 2013
Football journey: Will Svitek
By Mike Reiss
Every Saturday, the “football journey” of one New England Patriots player will be highlighted as part of a regular feature.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the Patriots preparing to visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night, it's especially timely to catch up with veteran offensive lineman Will Svitek.
The former Falcon signed a one-year contract with the Patriots on March 18 and was projected to add depth at both tackle spots. At the time, the Patriots were unsure if starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer would be returning, as he remained a free agent.
Vollmer ended up re-signing eight days later, and Svitek would find himself in an unusual spot for him -- right guard. He proved to be a quick study as the position switch added to his value.
Now, with Vollmer not expected to play Sunday night against the Falcons, Svitek's presence would add important depth at tackle. Svitek has missed the first three games with a knee injury, but could be primed to return in a game against his former team.
This is his football journey:
Will Svitek was 2 years old when his family came to the U.S. "to escape communism and achieve the American dream."
When he first started playing football: “I started playing Pop Warner when I was in fifth or sixth grade growing up in Southern California. Basketball was the first sport I started playing, then track. I only played football because all my friends were doing it.”
First positions: “I played a little bit of everything as a Pop Warner kid – tight end, defensive end, linebacker. In high school, I played tight end, wide receiver and defensive end. It’s hard to believe I was a receiver in high school – I was about 6-6, 235 [pounds] when I graduated. I was a skinny kid. But I was more of a basketball and track guy. Football was more something to do in the fall and be popular with the girls [laughing].”
Memories at Newbury Park (Calif.) High School: “Football was fun in high school because all my friends were playing. There is something special about playing high school football and that camaraderie. There is no other sport where you have more camaraderie than on a football team, playing Friday night with all your friends, in front of your family and all your classmates. That’s a special thing. The guys on the football team, I’ve known since I was a little kid and they’re some of my best friends. Some of the guys I played with in high school come to a game every year, since college and into the NFL.”
Enrolling at Stanford, where he played football: “As I was approaching college, I realized that most of my opportunities were in football; I was fortunate to get a lot of scholarship offers and decided to pursue that route in college. I got recruited as a tight end/defensive end and chose Stanford because I felt like it epitomized what a student-athlete was. It was also nice to stay on the West Coast and play in the Pac-10. Since I was 10, it was a dream of mine to go to Stanford. I played defensive end all five years, and for half of one year I played some tight end because of injuries.”
Football memories at Stanford: “Unfortunately we didn’t have the wins that we wanted, but I would never change it for the world. Some of my best friends to this day are from Stanford. I always tell people, my best friends in the world are from high school football, college football or the NFL. Football has given me a lot of great relationships.”
Favorite teams and players growing up: “When I was a young, young guy I was a big Lakers fan. I was kind of Redskins fan when they were in the Super Bowl with Mark Rypien. That was kind of random. But then I became a Chargers fan, growing up in Southern California.”
Role models who helped him along the way: “Most importantly, my parents. I came from an unusual background, born in Prague, Czech Republic, so everything is unorthodox with my background. My family immigrated to America, to Southern California, when I was 2 to escape communism and achieve the American dream. We left with the clothes on our back and were in a refugee camp. We came to the U.S. in ’85 with absolutely nothing – no money, no work experience out here, no credit history. My parents had to start off from scratch, living in a one-bedroom apartment, all five of us, for a couple years. My parents taught me about work ethic, dedication, and what the American dream is. I’ve always wanted to work hard, always wanted to have discipline, because my parents gave me so many opportunities. Unfortunately my dad passed away last year from cancer, so I try to represent him and do what he taught me. My goal in life has always been to make my parents proud.”
Entering the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2005: “By my senior year, I was about 6-6, 300 pounds and I felt like talking to some scouts and others that offensive line would be my best opportunity for a professional career. I was open to the idea. I played in the East-West Shrine Game as a defensive lineman, against Logan Mankins, as we were on the same team and practiced against each other. Some teams started working me out as an offensive lineman and I knew it would be a tough road. It’s a hard transition going to the NFL, period, let alone changing positions. There were some growing pains, but I was fortunate that Kansas City drafted me in the sixth round to play left tackle. It worked out well.”
Early years in Kansas City and appearing in 16 games with four starts from 2005 to 2007: “I made the 53-man roster my first year, which was my goal. I was inactive 15 games, but then I knew the road would be going to NFL Europe to get some experience, which I did after my rookie season. I started at left tackle for all 11 games, which was basically like getting to play a college season at a position I had never played before. We won the World Bowl championship. … My first offensive play in the NFL was at right tackle against the 49ers my second year, and it was pretty cool. I had Tony Gonzalez to the right of me and Will Shields to the left of me -- two Hall of Fame guys -- with Bryant Young across from me. That was pretty special.”
Signing with the Falcons and remaining with them from 2009 to 2012 (47 games; 14 starts): “I was a free agent and a lot of things go into that. The opportunity arose in Atlanta and I signed a two-year deal, and then signed another two-year deal. It was a great opportunity. Last year, I tore my triceps and spent the whole year on IR unfortunately, but the year before I felt like I had the best year of my career, starting 11 games at left tackle. We won a lot of games when I was there, four winning seasons, and it was a positive atmosphere. I really learned a lot.”
Joining the Patriots on a one-year deal as a free agent: “I came in here for a visit at the start of free agency, and the opportunity to play for Coach Belichick and this organization, it’s truly an honor. It’s been a great experience and obviously I think a lot of people would like to play for the New England Patriots. I feel like I fit in well here; the way I play, I think it was a natural fit for me … I’ve always tried to pride myself on being versatile, playing different sports growing up, and then being a receiver in high school, and going to college and playing defensive end, and in the NFL playing left tackle. It’s the ‘more you can do.’ In the NFL, I’ve started games at left tackle, right tackle and even one playoff game as a tight end. Now, this year, I’m playing right guard. Being in a new offense, and playing a new position, you almost feel like a rookie all over again. I pride myself on being professional and doing what the coaches ask me to do.”
What he loves about football: “It’s the competition. We’re all competitors in the NFL and it epitomizes competition. Trying to defeat your man, there is no other feeling like that. It’s a great team sport, the ultimate team sport; so many things have to be put together. It’s a special game and a special group of guys because not everyone can play football. I feel fortunate to be in this situation. It’s been a good ride so far. I want to keep it going.”
Summing up his football journey: “It’s been an unusual road for me. Thinking back to when I was playing Pop Warner and high school, if you had told me I’d be blocking for Tom Brady and playing for Coach Belichick, I never would have believed it. I’ve never really envisioned myself that far down the road, just always focusing on the next step. I never would have imagined I’d be in this situation, playing offensive line in the NFL. I think football teaches you a lot in terms of life, things I’ll be able to carry with me the rest of my life -- hard work, teamwork, dedication, working with people. There’s the education you get in the classroom, and it’s valuable. But the education you get on the football field is also something you’ll have for the rest of your life.”