Perhaps channeling his inner Mark Twain on Tuesday, New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower spoke with reporters, intent on providing a clear, concise and definitive message: Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Although that might be a bit of melodramatic paraphrasing, Hightower recently has been the subject of unsubstantiated and errant rumors surrounding his retirement. As such, New England’s long-time defensive team captain reiterated his commitment to the Patriots for the upcoming season.
“I don’t know what y’all want for me to say. I’m here. I’m working. I’m in minicamp,” Hightower said. “I’m not here to write a story for you, dawg. I’m here to work, man. I’m here. I don’t know what else y’all want me to say. If I wasn’t here, then I think that would be something to talk about. But I’m here. So, hopefully that knocks all those questions out.”
While Hightower was, indeed, one of eight Patriots to opt out of the 2020 season amid concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, his decision to do so was made with his family in mind, not his future on the gridiron. The opt-out would allow him to spend time with his family after the birth of his first son in late August, while protecting his health and that of his wife in the process.
“The opt-out was for (2020) and that was (2020),” he said. “All the rumors about retirement and stuff, y’all had me thinking somebody was trying to kick me out. But I did what I did for what I felt was better for my family. Obviously, I feel a little different with the situation I’m in now. But if I had to do it again, if I had to go back and do it I would absolutely do it again. It was literally just for the season. I wasn’t planning one, two steps ahead or anything like that.”
The 31-year-old has been an essential part of the Patriots’ defense ever since his arrival in 2012. Hightower not only is a prolific linebacker, but also the team’s defensive play caller. He is also one of the most respected leaders in the Patriots locker room.
After more than a year away from the team, as well as the game of football, Hightower reported to Gillette Stadium on June 4 for the final two days of OTA. Continuing into this week’s mandatory minicamp practices, Hightower has displayed an athleticism that left little doubt on his ability to play in 2021. His progress was noted earlier this week by head coach Bill Belichick, who remarked that Hightower "worked right in" to taking snaps and making plays with the first-team defense.
Of course, Hightower knows that this is just the start. The official start of training camp as well as the 2021 preseason still await. In the meantime, Hightower will continue to put in the work to ensure that he does all he can to help his team win.
“I wouldn’t be out here doing this for free,” Hightower said when asked about his motivation to help New England return to their winning ways.
Dont’a Hightower is back, and the 2021 New England Patriots are better for it.