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Mesko wins community service award

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff  August 27, 2012 08:15 PM

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FOXBOROUGH -- Every Tuesday, without fail, punter Zoltan Mesko is out visiting children. Even if it's the Patriots's only off day during the week.

It could be at a Boys and Girls club or a hospital, in Worcester or Providence, he's there giving his time.

He remembers hanging out with one kid who was playing a Spider-Man video game.

"He got to the boss like 20 times," Mesko said. "I just hung out with him, he kept getting beat, kept getting beat."

He wondered if putting up $20 would be enough of a push for the boy to beat the level.

He didn't know what he was getting into.

"He was absolutely sandbagging me," Mesko said. "He crushed the guy. So I had to pay up."

It put as big a smile on Mesko's face as it did on the boy's.

Earlier Monday, in the middle of the Patriots's practice, owner Robert Kraft walked up to Mesko and told him that for all his efforts in the community he would be honored with the team's Ron Burton Community Service Award at its annual Kickoff Gala at Gillette Stadium.

“It's a humbling experience,” Mesko said. “I just feel like the stage we're put on, we have the social responsibility as athletes to give back.

"The biggest thing I focus on is children," Mesko said. "Kids are where it's at. They have this kind of magic in their eyes, they still have a lot ahead of them and when you see them sick that's not where you want to see them. You want to put a smile on their face. You can't quantify the difference you make by showing up and giving them something to smile about for that day."

He became the 10th player to win the award, joining a list that includes Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.

“It's special,” Wilfork said. “It speaks so much about the person who we are not as a football player.

Explain why working with children is so important to him, he looked back at his roots in Romania and the opportunities he's had since coming to America when he was 11.

When his father applied for the green card lottery, there were 20 million applicants and 55,000 winners. He considered himself lucky just to be in America and have the opportunity to kick footballs for a living.

"Coming from a really low point in your life, growing up in the Communism and a very bad economic situation, coming over here I'm very grateful for where I am," he said.

This will be Mesko's third year in New England, but Kraft said, "In the 18 years since we've established the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, perhaps no player has accomplished more in the community in such a short time."

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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