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Patriots notebook

Crumpler can’t help but provide assistance

By Shalise Manza Young and Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / May 7, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Rather than rest during the offseason, as he has generally done throughout his career, new Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler set about getting into better shape.

The only player at his position on the New England roster who has played an NFL down, Crumpler had packed on the pounds in Tennessee. But wanting to set a good example and saying that much is expected of him with the Patriots, he got himself in the gym, working with trainer Mackie Shilstone for six weeks.

Speaking yesterday at Gillette Stadium, Crumpler wouldn’t divulge how much weight he’s lost. “All that matters is that I feel great every day,’’ he said.

The 32-year-old, four-time Pro Bowl selection was asked about the Patriots choosing two tight ends in the draft, but Crumpler seems to relish the opportunity to work with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, as well as practice-squad players Rob Myers and Robbie Agnone.

“When I get the opportunity to work with young guys, it keeps me sharp. Teaching comes naturally to me,’’ Crumpler said, adding that he’ll help the players any way he can, encouraging them to arrive a little earlier to watch film and improve.

A standout receiver early in his career with the Falcons, Crumpler’s role shifted to more of a blocker with the Titans.

“As long as I had a role that was communicated to me, I was fine with that. It only hurt the feelings of people who picked me for fantasy football,’’ he said with a laugh.

Crumpler sounded a lot like a coach as he spoke enthusiastically about helping his teammates, but he has no plans to go that route, even though others have him pegged as a future coach.

His new physique seems to have reinvigorated his passion for the game.

“I really enjoy playing,’’ he said, and he will keep playing for as long as he has a job. “I feel so much better now than I did a few months ago.’’

Unfair criticism
The Patriots were caught by surprise this week when they found themselves on the negative side of a story involving Connecticut schoolchildren.

A story in the Norwich Bulletin bore the headline “Patriot no-shows disappoint Lebanon students’’ and said the Lebanon Middle School held an event Tuesday to recognize children who participated in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, a joint effort between the NFL and Department of Agriculture. Officials at the school assumed Patriot players would be at the event to work out with students. Instead, a team intern with an exercise video and a dietician were the guests.

But the New England Dairy & Food Council, which organizes the schools who participate in the program in this region, insist the Patriots were never involved and did nothing wrong.

In a statement, Gary Wheelock, the CEO of the non-profit group, claimed full responsibility.

“New England Dairy & Food Council wishes to apologize for our miscommunication that led to student disappointment that a New England Patriots player did not attend the Lebanon Middle School assembly program earlier this week,’’ Wheelock said. “This was not, in any way, the fault of the Patriots, it was solely New England Dairy & Food Council’s mistake, and we are very sorry . . . We promise that we will find a way to make this right, and we ask the kids for their patience while we try to make amends.’’

Wheelock stressed that the Patriots do not deserve any criticism for the mixup. There are hundreds of schools who take part in the program, and providing a player appearance for every school would be difficult, therefore none of the schools receive a player appearance for their involvement.

A lot on his plate
Stephen Neal got back to Foxborough Tuesday morning, took a physical, and was back working out with his teammates yesterday.

It’s been four months since he’s been here full time, and a lot has happened to the starting right guard.

He talked about retiring the day of the playoff loss to Baltimore, recommitted to playing, hit the free agent market (briefly), and decided to return to New England. Neal also has thrown himself headlong into helping save the wrestling program at his alma mater, Cal State-Bakersfield.

Current and former teammates Tom Brady, Mike Vrabel, and Tedy Bruschi have provided memorabilia to be auctioned off at a May 15 dinner, and other NFLers Matt Hasselbeck, David Carr (a Bakersfield native) and Gene Mruczkowski have also become involved, as have NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick and mixed martial arts fighter Brock Lesnar.

The effort is also aimed at saving men’s and women’s golf and women’s tennis at the school, and $1.4 million is needed by May 21, which would give those programs a two-year reprieve. Neal reports the wrestling program already has raised $500,000.

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