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Patriots’ Wilfork is a family man who also has a lot to tackle away from the field

By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / August 29, 2010

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FRANKLIN — The nose tackle knows.

It’s a sultry Saturday morning, Vince Wilfork’s day off. But the Patriot isn’t really off. He’s already reported to Gillette Stadium to undergo treatment on his quadriceps muscle. When he arrives back home, there is a blitz of activity. His wife demands that he help put the groceries away and get breakfast on the table, the kids want to play touch football, and the baby has a diaper that the two-time Pro Bowl selection can smell from a red zone away.

Wilfork, who was once fined four times in a season by the NFL for being a bad boy, now crawls on the carpet and changes his 1-year-old son’s diaper on the living room floor with a gentleness never displayed in six seasons on the gridiron. In fact, Wilfork has become a human changing table, with his legs extended so that David Dream-Angel cannot scramble away from his 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pound father.

Is this the same guy whose reputation is that of a mean and nasty player?

“That’s just for 60 minutes, that’s all,’’ says his wife and biggest fan, Bianca. “He’s like a big teddy bear, he’s like mush, really. He’s the furthest thing from a mean guy as possible, unless you cross him. Then the 60 minutes come back on.’’

Vince Wilfork, 28, is no glamour boy. His shirt has a hole in it, Bianca tells him, but he doesn’t care. His hair isn’t well-coiffed. Actually, his hairline is receding.

Nobody grows up dreaming of being a nose tackle, lining up over the center and getting double- and sometimes triple-teamed while all eyes are elsewhere.

“Oh, heck no. You’ve got to be a grinder,’’ Wilfork says. “You want to be a linebacker, a running back, a receiver, you want to be a quarterback.’’

He knows he’s no Tom Brady.

“His life is a glamorous life,’’ says Wilfork. “He’s a great player and a great guy. You think of most quarterbacks as snobs, but he’s not.’’

Wilfork’s professional life is spent in the trenches, pummeling away, an arm’s reach from the quarterback.

He was selected a captain by teammates in 2008 and ’09, and is the heart and soul of the Patriots’ 3-4 defense. But few appreciate a nose tackle, according to Wilfork, except the coaches.

“From a fan viewpoint, the average person watching football, they really don’t know nose tackle, or what their job basically is,’’ he says.

Wilfork estimates that of 60 to 70 plays the opposing offense runs each game, he is single-covered just 10 times. Yet he has averaged nearly 50 tackles a season, and gives teammates opportunities to make higher-profile plays.

Well-rounded person
Off the field, he’s low-key. The mailbox outside the two-story Colonial home is simply labeled “The Wilforks’’. Nobody ever rings the bell and bothers him.

“I’m your average Joe Blow,’’ he says. “I’m your plumber. I’m your garbage man. I’m your everyday people. I don’t send people out to get my mail. I don’t have no personal assistant, none of that mess. I’m a normal person. I drive myself everywhere. I don’t need no car service, that’s not me. We go to Walmart, we go to Target, we don’t have to go to the mall.’’

OK, he does have some trappings of wealth from a five-year, $40 million contract signed in March, which made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL. He’s got a massive orange Freightliner truck with a Mercedes-Benz engine and license plates that read, “Fat Boi.’’

He’s also part-owner of two harness horses, Midnight Lawyer and Eel, that have raced at Plainridge Racecourse and Meadowlands Racetrack, and he has applied for his thoroughbred license. At the local stable where he keeps his horses, a foal was born the other day while Wilfork was visiting. It was named “Big Vince,’’ and Wilfork fell in love with him and plans to buy him.

Wilfork wants one of his horses to win the Kentucky Derby someday, and he’s not kidding. “That’s my ultimate goal,’’ he says. “You only live once.’’

The interior of Wilfork’s comfortable home does not reek of football. There’s a framed picture of Wilfork in uniform. It’s signed by the kids who benefited from the annual fund-raiser Wilfork conducts to raise money to fight diabetes, which claimed his father in 2002. His mother died soon afterward, also before the age of 50, and Wilfork has tattoos that read “RIP Mom’’ and “RIP Dad’’ on each forearm. He also wears a locket that contains their high school prom picture.

The refrigerator is covered with photos of the kids — D’Aundre, 12; Destiny, 7; and David Dream-Angel.

Today, Dad is tired, but nobody cares.

“When it’s my day off I want to relax, but when you got kids your day off really isn’t a day off,’’ Wilfork says. “They think Daddy’s home, let’s catch up. It’s hard to do, but I try as best as I can.’’

Wilfork says his parents were there for him, so he wants to be there for his kids, no matter what.

“It’s tough at times,’’ he says. “My kids got so much energy. I can’t sit here and say it’s not hard because it is. But you have to let kids be kids.’’

There are no motivational quotes from Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick at the Wilfork home. But stenciled on the wall in the living room is: “All because two people fell in love.’’

Perfect matchup
Bianca starts to giggle when she tells the story of how they met in 2001. She was a single mother working two jobs, one as the manager of a Taco Bell in Homestead, Fla., the other for an air cargo import/export company. He was an up-and-coming player at the University of Miami.

“We met online,’’ she says. “He saw a picture of me and sent me a lame message, like, ‘My name is Vince. Call me.’ And I was like, ‘This dude has got to be kidding me,’ but I called him. He was just trying to be my friend. It seemed like everyone in my circle got on my nerves at the time and he was the last one standing.’’

Wilfork, a Boynton Beach, Fla., native, laughs. He says they talked on the phone for two months before they even agreed to meet in person.

“When we met I knew she was the one for me,’’ he says. “I haven’t looked back since. Three kids later, we have a beautiful family. She is my backbone. With her I don’t have to worry about anything but football.’’

Bianca goes to every Patriots practice, every game, home and away. They have their own communication system for injuries.

“If he’s on the ground for more than, say, seven seconds, he’s got to come up and give me some kind of signal,’’ she says. “In the back, he’s got 20 seconds to grab the nearest cellphone and call me and tell me he’s OK, otherwise he’ll see me down there, I’ll find him. He knows that.’’

Not short, on confidence
Wilfork plays touch football with his wife and kids, then basketball with stepson D’Aundre, whom he beats easily. Wilfork says he can still dunk, if he gets warmed up. But when he loses a game of C-A-T, he is miffed.

“I hate to lose in anything,’’ he says.

One of just a handful of players left from the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXIX team, he also believes he can play just about every position in pro football.

“It don’t matter to me,’’ he says. “I’m an athlete. I tell people that all the time.’’

He played quarterback recently at practice and the defense beat the offense in a reversal of roles.

“It was a day in paradise,’’ Wilfork says. “Brady said I did exactly what he would have done.’’

He also believes he could be a linebacker.

“I can do it,’’ he says. “I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to start believing that I don’t lie. I grew up, everybody looked at my size and said, ‘I didn’t know you could move like that.’ ’’

Wilfork claims he even beat receiver Randy Moss in a season-long one-on-one matchup held two years ago.

“Every Friday, I would be a receiver and he would be a [defensive back],’’ Wilfork says. “I think I came out on top. He’ll probably lie to me and say I didn’t. But I’m just a competitive man. I want to win, man, in everything I do. If I can’t do something, I’ll learn. But there’s nothing in football I can’t do.’’

In high school, according to Bianca, Wilfork set a Florida state record in the shot put. “Ask him about it,’’ she says.

But Wilfork already moved on. Now he’s Farmer Wilfork, sweating bullets in the garden, pulling out peppers to grill as part of a steak dinner. There’s also strawberries, string beans, collard greens, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions amid the weeds.

“Don’t take pictures, it’s too overgrown,’’ Wilfork says, bemoaning two-a-day training camp practices.

Quiet leader
He also takes offense to people already criticizing the Patriots’ 2010 defense.

“I don’t think we have a bunch of no-names,’’ he says. “I think we have a bunch of guys who work hard and know what it takes to win. We’re out there challenging each other.’’

Wilfork says he tries to lead by example.

“I don’t yell,’’ he says. “I play football. You don’t have to have a damn meeting.

“I’m big into doing my job and trusting my teammates behind me. One thing that’s true is the eye in the sky don’t lie. Once you put that film on you see exactly what’s going on. I don’t need people yelling all the time, because to me I don’t think you need to yell to get your point across.’’

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.

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