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Vince Wilfork on coming back from season-ending Achilles injury: ‘I appreciate [football] a lot more’

07.24.14 at 4:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork had gone nine straight seasons in the league without missing significant time. He had played all 16 games a year besides 2009 when he missed the final three games of the regular season before returning for the playoffs.

That all changed last year.

On a Sunday night in Atlanta — the fourth game of the season — the 325-pound defensive tackle suffered an Achilles injury, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon.

The 32-year-old has recovered and is now ready for his 11th NFL season, but with a little more appreciation for the game than prior to his injury.

“I’ve always appreciated the game, but being out last year, it just made me dwell a lot more on things a little bit more, and I appreciate it a lot more,” Wilfork said following the first day of training camp on Thursday. “You think about things a little bit differently now going through what I’ve been through. My first time being injured, but it’s one of those things I had a roadblock in the road — what am I going to do about it?”

Wilfork made it through the first training camp session without any issues and did not seem limited in any fashion.

“I feel fine,” he said. “Throughout the offseason, it was just working hard. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some stuff I may need to do, but so far so good. I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward. I’m just excited being here.”

The defensive tackle reflected back to last season and how tough it was watching from the sidelines, but was able to make it through with the help of his teammates, coaches and most importantly his family.

“With the teammates I have, with my coaches, with my family — that’s a big supporter of mine, my family — just having somebody that you can talk to every day, come and work out every day and have guys surrounding you and just being able to comfort you when times get tough,” Wilfork said. “Just having someone to talk to. I think this team does a real good job of that. Everybody just sending you a text or a phone call or just coming to your house to see how you’re doing — it went a long ways for me, and I really appreciate it from everybody.”

His injury wasn’t the only issue he dealt with this offseason — there was also the matter of his contract, as the organization wanted to restructure his deal to lower his salary cap hit. According to multiple reports, Wilfork felt slighted by the team and asked to be traded. He reportedly went as far as removing his nameplate from his locker inside the Patriots locker room.

After about a month, he agreed to a complicated, incentive-laden $23 million, three-year extension ($4 million signing bonus) in late March. Asked if he needed to re-prove anything because of the injury or the contract restructuring, Wilfork brushed that aside as he’s not one to be selfish.

“I just have to prove I can come out and give my team what they need. That’s what I have to prove,” Wilfork said. “Me as a person, I’ve never been a selfish player; I was a team player. If I wanted to be selfish, I could have been a shot putter. I’ve done that. I was a state champion shot putter, but it wasn’t my thing. My thing was to be with teammates, a good group of guys, and we’re all working toward one goal and that’s to be able to win and push one another. That’s why I chose football. For me to prove anything, no; I have to prove to my teammates they can trust me when the time is on the line. They have to do the same thing with me. It starts now.”

Injury and new contract aside, Wilfork is looking forward to 2014, especially with the new additions the team has on defense in Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and rookie Dominique Easley.

“Every year we try and have a smooth transition,” Wilfork said. “Bill [Belichick] does a good job of teaching guys how we play, how we do things around here, so it wont be hard for those guys to catch on. They’ve done a really good job and haven’t had any problems. Everyone is excited. If you stay excited, good things will happen.”

Read More: 2014 training camp, Vince Wilfork,
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