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Wilfork is feeling fresh again

Patriots' top pick is ready to stick his nose in action

FOXBOROUGH -- Vince Wilfork could not help but feel a sense of deja vu when he reported for work Thursday. It was his first day of training camp with the Patriots. But New England's top pick in April's draft could not help but feel the way he did as a freshman at the University of Miami.

"It's starting over again, exactly," Wilfork said, sweat streaming down his face after a late afternoon workout at Gillette Stadium before some 5,000 fans. "I look at myself as a freshman in college now. I'm starting from the bottom. The only thing that's gotten me to this point is hard work and I'm not going to lose sight of that.

"I know hard work pays off in the end and that's why I'm here. I'm just ready to get it rolling, man, and I'm looking forward to it."

When he arrived at Miami three years ago as a blue-chip defensive tackle from Boynton Beach, Fla., Wilfork was left somewhat starstruck by the awesome array of talent that greeted him at his first practice with the Hurricanes.

"There was Ed Reed . . . Bryant McKinnie -- who I battled all the time in practice, I mean we fought every day," Wilfork recalled. "Ken Dorsey . . . Brett Romberg . . . Martin Bibla . . . Damione Lewis . . . I mean, the list goes on and on."

Then, with a sense of pride, Wilfork added, "All those guys I mentioned are in the NFL now and being successful."

Now Wilfork can add his name to that list.

A devoted Celtics fan, Wilfork felt New England would be a perfect fit for him. He is not the least bit concerned about making the radical change in climates from South Florida's tropical conditions to Foxborough's frigid temperatures. "It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, the weather will not affect my play," he said.

When he arrived in Foxborough for his first day of camp, Wilfork again was struck by the impressive talent the Patriots had stockpiled on their defensive line, a group that has an interesting mix of talented youth and experienced veterans.

"It's funny to say I'm an older guy on the defensive line, being only 24 years old," said Richard Seymour, the ranking and most decorated member of the group with two Super Bowl rings and two Pro Bowl selections. "We've got some young talent and some young guys who definitely can get the job done. We're going to have to wait and see until we put on the pads and until we get those guys some experience."

Said Wilfork, "I know a lot of people want to see what I'm all about and I'm just ready to get it rolling."

So, does the 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pounder hope to make New England fans forget about Ted Washington, the rotund run-stopper who bolted for more dough in Oakland?

"I just want to show that I'm a hard worker, I'm a team player," said Wilfork, who recorded 148 tackles (73 solo) and 14 sacks at Miami. "Hopefully, I can bring some wins and help that winning streak. One thing they'll see when they see me play, or whenever they see me in practice, is: `Wow, this guy can play ball.'

"Hopefully, they'll see a different man than Ted Washington or whatever. I'm looking forward to it."

Wilfork said New England fans naturally will compare him to Washington "because of my size and stuff. One thing a lot of fans will see is that I can move. I can do more than just run-stop. I try not to get caught up into the whole Ted Washington deal, but I mean, it's reality.

"I don't know what my role is here with the New England Patriots, so I'm just taking it as a learning experience right now."

Coach Bill Belichick, however, left no doubt as to what the rookie's role will be: "He's going to play nose."

It was a decision Wilfork was not about to contest.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm not the type of guy who sits around and mopes when they tell you to do something. If I've got to get something done, I'm going to get it done."

And that is why the Patriots made him the 21st overall pick.

"When they picked me, that showed me a lot," Wilfork said. "I mean, the defending Super Bowl champs believe I can help them and see something in me. That's how I'm taking it.

"I have stuff to prove to the coaches. I have stuff to prove to the players. And I have stuff to prove to the fans."

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