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Return engagements pay off

Cuts overcame sticky situations

FOXBOROUGH -- In September, the heart of soccer season, teenagers take over the fields once the school day concludes. But during the day, the fields are abandoned, and Je'Rod Cherry would seek out those empty stretches of green grass.

For nearly the entire month, when the facilities at Brockton's Massasoit Community College were occupied, Cherry sprinted, shuffled, and backpedaled on numerous fields in Raynham, doing his best to stay in shape.

"People must have thought I was crazy, a big guy in the middle of the day running around for no apparent reason," Cherry said.

The reason was that on Sept. 5, Cherry was no longer allowed to work out at Gillette Stadium. That day, the Patriots cut the ninth-year safety, turning him into a former employee who would do anything to make the team pay for its actions.

"When it first occurred, I was [upset]," Cherry said. "I was like, `Man, why did they do this to me? If I get a chance to go someplace else and I can play against the Patriots, I'm going to kill them.' "

Such feelings haunt end-of-roster players, the men who must play on the edge -- literally and figuratively. Perform with efficiency and emotion? You're on the team. Miss a special teams tackle? You're unemployed.

The Patriots' current roster includes several players who were cut earlier in the season and brought back. The Patriots signed wide receiver Kevin Kasper Oct. 6, waived him Nov. 27, re-signed him Nov. 30, cut him again Dec. 3, then brought him back Dec. 22. Running back Rabih Abdullah, who was signed Sept. 11, was waived Nov. 22 and re-signed a month later.

"It's been a great learning experience being here, not being here, coming back," said Abdullah, who rushed twice for 5 yards in New England's 21-7 regular-season finale victory over San Francisco. "You have to look at the positives of the situation. You have to look at it and get the best you can out of it. It makes you stronger to the world. Everybody has disappointments. You have to appreciate what you have, don't take things for granted and enjoy your opportunities."

Cherry, who was originally signed as an unrestricted free agent July 25, 2001, was re-signed Oct. 6 after his initial release. But Dec. 24, he was waived once more, then re-signed five days later.

"I've lost a job twice in one year," Cherry said with a laugh. "But I've still had support of family and friends. There's not much that can affect me."

Prior to his September release, Cherry had talked with team chaplain Walt Day about setting up a Bible study with the Department of Youth Services. After he was cut, Cherry questioned why troubled youths would want to talk with an out-of-work football player. But he decided to do it anyway, and each Monday, Cherry would hold sessions at a DYS facility in Dorchester.

Cherry saw faces that looked familiar. They reminded him of the youths he knew while growing up in Berkeley, Calif., kids who became drug dealers. Ironically, his unemployment bolstered his message to the kids.

"What I've gone through this year allows me to tell them that I might be involved in an occupation that makes a lot of money, but that there are ups and downs in life," Cherry said. "For me, I'm stabilized with my belief in God and I transmit that to those who want to hear it. For those who are receptive, it helps because even if they're in a bad situation, they can overcome it."

Time, prayer, and Bible studies helped Cherry overcome his initial bitterness toward the Patriots, and his patience and individual workouts were rewarded. However, four days after he made a touchdown-saving stop on a Wes Welker punt return in New England's 29-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins Dec. 20, he was released again. The news came easier the second time around, and the team informed him that he would likely be re-signed several days later.

"I was at peace," said Cherry, who returned to make a pair of sparkling special teams plays against San Francisco -- he downed Josh Miller's 39-yard punt at the 49ers' 1-yard line, and later dove to prevent a punt from bouncing into the end zone, allowing Kasper to down the ball at San Francisco's 4-yard line.

Kasper, who made two special teams tackles against the 49ers, acknowledged that this season hadn't worked out the best, but said he was happy to play for a winning organization. But even yesterday, with his roster spot seemingly secure, Kasper hurried out of the locker room before practice, ever wary of appearing out of place.

"I've got to get taped up," Kasper said. "I don't want to be late."

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