Football journey of LB Ninkovich

Ninkovich played special teams in Week 1

September 19, 2009, 8:08 AM

By: Mike Reiss

On Saturdays throughout the season, the plan will be to highlight one Patriots player's football journey. This week, it is linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

The 25-year-old Ninkovich, who was a core special teams player and appeared in a handful of defensive snaps in the season opener, signed with the Patriots on Aug. 2. He grew up in Chicago.

Where it all started. "I wanted to play seventh grade Pee Wee football, but I was 185 pounds. They wouldn't let me play. The weight limit was around 135. So the first time I actually played football was my freshman year of high school."

Teams he followed and positions he played. "I was a huge Cowboys fan, a big Emmitt Smith fan. My freshman year of high school, I actually played offensive line, but I told all my teammates then, 'by the end of my career, I want to be a running back.' Sure enough, when I was a senior, I was playing running back and defensive end."

Choosing Purdue. "Out of high school, I wasn't the biggest defensive end. I was probably 215 [pounds]. So I decided to go to Joliet Junior College, which had just won a national championship. We won it [again] when I was a freshman. Kelvin Hayden, who is now a corner with the Colts, was a teammate. After my sophomore year, I had a lot of Big Ten schools looking at me, and I decided on Purdue because I wanted to be [another] Rosevelt Colvin, Akin Ayodele, Shaun Phillips -- all those guys who are 250-260 [pounds]. It wasn't the best choice because of the people they had there -- Ray Edwards and Anthony Spencer."

Entering the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice. "I had a workout with New England and Dallas, and I was pretty much set on being an outside 'backer. When the draft came around, 136 was the Patriots' pick. I was 135, to New Orleans. When the phone was ringing, I thought it was New England. Instead, it was Sean Payton saying 'Do you want to play defensive end?'"

NFL progression. "I was with the Saints my rookie year, and I was the third d-end, behind Will Smith and Charles Grant. I was playing a lot, but unfortunately I had a knee injury where I tore my ACL and had to have that fixed. I came back the next year and tore the MCL in my same leg. It was a tough two years. Then I got released and claimed by Miami. I played a few games, working a bit at inside linebacker. I was with them last year on the practice squad, then New Orleans signed me to long snap for them. But it turned out to be a blessing that they released me [July 30], because I wanted to play defense."

New England impressions. "I've really wanted this, right now. I'm hungry for it. I had a taste of it my rookie year and once you get a taste of something, you know you can do it. I know I can compete and play well at this level. Now it's just taking the opportunity and staying healthy. That's one of the main goals in the NFL -- to stay healthy and play all 16 games, contribute on special teams, and when they put me out there, I will keep the level the same. I want them to be confident I can play."

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