THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Mayo is a leader from way back

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 5, 2010

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Derek Mayo rushed to the television that September night, ready for “Monday Night Football.’’ Once he had finished his workouts with the University of Richmond football team, Mayo dashed home to watch his older brother Jerod Mayo and the Patriots open the 2009 season against Buffalo.

What began as excitement quickly turned to nervousness as Derek saw Jerod, a middle linebacker, hobbling off the field with an injured knee in the first game of his second NFL season.

“It was pretty discouraging,’’ Derek said. “It kind of hurt my feelings, because I don’t ever want to see anything bad happen to any of my brothers.

“I was definitely concerned. I called my mom and my dad to see if they had an update. I mean, that’s my brother.’’

Jerod sprained his medial collateral ligament that night. A newly elected team captain, he was expected to be out 6-8 weeks but was back after three games. His brother wasn’t surprised.

“He has a great work ethic,’’ Derek said. “That comes from my grandfather, because he worked us real hard back in the day. I knew he was going to work real hard to get back to the team.’’

Growing up around Hampton, Va., the four Mayo brothers learned about football from each other. They all played linebacker and running back, with the eldest, Shermont, leading the way. But Jerod, Deron, and Derek found a way to keep football in their lives. Jerod is starting his third NFL season, Derek is entering his sophomore season at Richmond, and Deron is at Old Dominion after Hofstra’s program folded last year.

As Jerod continues to establish himself in the NFL, his younger brothers are watching closely, just in case they find themselves at the professional level one day. After all, whatever Jerod did growing up, they did, too.

“I started to think, maybe I can do the same thing and try to follow in his footsteps,’’ said Deron, a defensive end in his senior season at ODU. “He’s always trying to help us and show us the right way.’’

The same qualities that led Jerod’s teammates to vote him a captain are what his brothers cherished growing up.

“It’s real rough being apart from your brother, especially when you’re around them 24 hours a day when you’re younger,’’ Derek said. “When we’re all together, we make the most of it.’’

When Jerod’s brothers are mentioned, he breaks out in a smile. When the Mayo brothers were kids, they followed Jerod into various adventures. He would grab bungee cords and tie them to trees. One by one, they would swing like Tarzan, his younger brothers following Jerod.

“He could tell you, ‘Jump off a tree,’ and you would do it,’’ Derek said. “And you’ll follow right behind because you know he will never lead you astray. It was definitely risky, but we would do it.’’

They have ditched the bungee cords for video game controllers, challenging each other to games or exchanging ideas about football strategy.

“We have a real good relationship,’’ Derek said. “Being that we’re far away from each other, we only get to talk to each other but once or maybe twice a week. But when we all get together, it’s an amazing experience.’’

The time together isn’t as plentiful as it used to be. A professional career demands much of Jerod’s time, and his brothers are dedicated to their college teams. But they have found joy in watching Jerod succeed at the NFL level.

After a college career at Tennessee, Jerod was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2008 draft. When he got the call, his brothers and other family members were around.

“He didn’t really want anybody in the house, and he got the phone call,’’ Deron said. “We ran all the way down the block we were so excited.’’

In that first season, Jerod was named Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. With high hopes of a strong second season, the early injury was a disappointment, but coach Bill Belichick saw positive traits that have carried over into this season.

“I think he started high, and I think he’s built on that,’’ Belichick said. “He was a good football player as a rookie. Very mature, very good at a lot of things. But he’s improved tremendously over the last couple of years, too.

“He has a great feel for the overall defense, not just his responsibility, although he’s good at his responsibility. He has a good understanding of the total defense.

“He’s very coachable. He’s very team-oriented. He understands what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. I think he definitely understood some of that his rookie year, but I think he’s gained a lot of knowledge as well as just playing experience.’’

Playing with a metal brace around his knee was challenging, but now, Jerod said, “I feel good and I feel healthy.’’ He played in 13 games and had 114 total tackles in 2009.

Jerod may be an example for his brothers and their future goals, but as a member of the Patriots, he is trying to find the balance between learning and teaching.

“I’m still a young guy — maybe not a young guy in terms of years played on this team, but I’m still 24 years old and I’m still learning from guys like Vince Wilfork or Ty Warren, even though he’s not here right now,’’ he said. “If the guys have a question, I’m there to answer it. I try to play that role that [Tedy] Bruschi and [Mike] Vrabel played for me when I first came here.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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