Woonsocket Call

Hightower happy to be back

Line­backer suf­fered pec­toral in­jury early in 2017

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FOXBORO — Dont’a Hightower is clearly thrilled to be back on the field after the frus­tra­tion of hav­ing to sit and watch most of last sea­son on the side­lines.

After mak­ing one of the big­gest sacks in New Eng­land fran­chise his­tory when he sep­a­rated At­lanta’s Matt Ryan from the foot­ball dur­ing New Eng­land’s Su­per Bowl come­back in Fe­bru­ary 2017, Hightower — who had missed three games the pre­vi­ous sea­son with a knee prob­lem — was lost five games into the 2017 sched­ule with a torn pec­toral mus­cle. Co­in­ci­den­tally, he was hurt against the Fal­cons.

His ab­sence, felt deeply by a team that came up short de­fen­sively in the Su­per Bowl, wasn’t easy for Hightower to han­dle — even if it’s some­thing he had got­ten used to.

“Ab­so­lutely,” the line­backer and de­fen­sive cap­tain said Wed­nes­day, fol­low­ing the se­cond day of the Pa­tri­ots’ manda- tory mini­camp out­side Gil­lette Sta­dium. “Be­ing out last year and even a lit­tle bit more the year be­fore that, it just feels good to be out here and be able to com­mu­ni­cate, go through the worst part and em­brac­ing the (camp stuff), as they say, with my team­mates.”

Hightower, 28, has failed to play a full sched­ule in any of his six years in the NFL. In fact, he has missed 24 of a pos­si­ble 96 reg­u­lar-sea­son games since be­com­ing a pro in 2012.

“It just (stinks) not be­ing out there,” he said. “I know in my ca­reer in the league I’ve missed a lot of games. It’s def­i­nitely not an­tic­i­pated and it’s not some­thing I look for­ward to do­ing or want to do. But it’s part of it.

“Just not be­ing out there dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, let alone the play­offs, it (stinks) and it hurts.”

Dur­ing his down­time, he said, “I just do what I can, whether it’s talk­ing to (me­dia), or go­ing out to din­ner and talk­ing about some stuff.”

And he also re­mained part of the group of lineback­ers.

“We’ve got a group chat. We stay on that,” he said. “We’ve got a big old group chat. Whether it’s a funny meme or some­body’s got a ques­tion about foot­ball, or we’re talk­ing about some­thing hap­pen­ing on TV, or the (NBA) Fi­nals or what­ever. We’ve got a tight-knit group and we stay close.”

Asked if he might have done some coach­ing while not play­ing, Hightower said, “Not so much. There were small things I’d see dur­ing the games or what­ever or I’d see on the IPad at prac­tice, I might say some­thing to them. Not so much as a coach on the side­line.”

So did it spark in­ter­est for him in a coach­ing fu­ture?

“Maybe,” he said. “Def­i­nitely not in the NFL, prob­a­bly not in col­lege, ei­ther.

“I’ve been away for too long, man. I don’t know if I can do that. I mean, I love foot­ball but I don’t know if I love it that much.”

NOTES: Rob Gronkowski caught a touch- down pass from Tom Brady in the cor­ner of the end zone dur­ing one drill. In­stead of his cus­tom­ary spike, he threw the ball out of the prac­tice fields. . Gronkowski, in a great state of mind after his off­sea­son of un­cer­tainty, walked past the Hightower in­ter­view and was heard say­ing, with a laugh, “They trad­ing me still?” . Day 2 and Brady re­mains quiet, with Thurs­day seen as a pos­si­bil­ity for him to meet with the me­dia.

 ?? File photo by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat / lmzart­works.com ?? After miss­ing the se­cond half of the sea­son and the play­offs with a torn pec­toral mus­cle, Pa­tri­ots line­backer Dont’a Hightower is ex­cited to re­turn to the field.
File photo by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat / lmzart­works.com After miss­ing the se­cond half of the sea­son and the play­offs with a torn pec­toral mus­cle, Pa­tri­ots line­backer Dont’a Hightower is ex­cited to re­turn to the field.

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