<
>

Football journey: Ryan Wendell

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Ryan Wendell has seen his role increase with the Patriots.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Fresno State offensive lineman Ryan Wendell wasn’t selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, he could have signed with a few different NFL teams.

He chose the Patriots, in part because he received a telephone call from Bill Belichick.

“When he calls you right after the draft, you can’t say no to that,” Wendell recalled, noting that no other head coaches had done so. “That was pretty neat. Just being a college kid, and having Bill Belichick call you and take some of the time out of his day, it makes you feel like they’re not just trying to fill up a camp spot.”

Wendell also liked that fellow Fresno State alums Logan Mankins, James Sanders and Stephen Spach were on the roster, and that Fresno head coach Pat Hill had been an assistant on Belichick’s Cleveland Browns staff in the early 1990s.

“I knew it would be a good place to come and at least I’d get a fair shake here,” he said.

Wendell spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad before earning a more permanent spot on the roster in 2010. He's been a top backup this year, and in Monday night’s win over the Chiefs, he replaced injured center Dan Connolly in the second quarter.

Now the 6-foot-2, 295-pound Wendell is primed to play more Sunday in Philadelphia.

Wendell, 25, shared his “football journey” with ESPNBoston.com this week:

When he first started playing football: “I started playing in high school, my freshman year. My mom wouldn’t let me play before that. I was heavy, and because of that, I would have had to play with the older kids. So I played soccer. Then, when I got to high school, it was football and wrestling.”

What positions he played: “I was always on the offensive and defensive line. In high school, you play both ways.”

Top memories of Diamond Bar (Calif.) High School, where his jersey is retired: “My freshman year, getting pulled up to varsity, that was pretty awesome. The whole experience is great, playing offense, defense, and on every special teams unit. I wish we went further in the playoffs. We got knocked out both my junior and senior year. Mark Sanchez beat us; he was at Mission Viejo and they had an amazing team. They knocked us out both my junior and senior year.”

Why he attended Fresno State: “Fresno was the first Division I school to offer me. After meeting [coach] Pat Hill, you couldn’t not want to play for the guy. I decided early, during my senior season. I didn’t wait until it was over because I didn’t like playing that whole recruiting game. They offered me early, I liked them, and as soon as I knew I was comfortable with Pat, I went on my trip [and committed]. I really liked it.”

Top memories at Fresno State: “Similar to high school, going in and starting as a freshman was great. I got to play a lot of football, a lot of games. Playing next to Logan [Mankins] was great. I played left guard, he played left tackle, and that made it a lot easier having him next to me. Fresno has only beaten Boise one time, so my sophomore year when we beat them, that was pretty awesome. Beating Virginia in a Bowl game my freshman year, then my last year, beating Georgia Tech in a Bowl game was good. I can still hold it over Gary [Guyton’s] head.”

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Undrafted Wendell joined the Patriots practice squad in 2008.

Expectations in the 2008 NFL Draft: “I knew I was an undersized guy from a smaller school and knew I probably wasn’t going to get drafted. There was an outside chance on the last day, in the later rounds, so I was just excited to see what teams were picking what guys. I was just hoping I could go somewhere as an undrafted free agent and try to make a team.”

Growing as a player with the Patriots: “I’m happy about it. I think I’ve benefitted from it. I think we have great coaches here and we have really good players helping the guys around them. I think this is the kind of place where if you work hard, and try to do the right thing, your career will last. Having Dante Scarnecchia as a coach, I’ve gotten a lot better. Watching the other players in front of me the last couple of years has been great. It’s a great system to come in to.”

Passing on opportunities to join other teams’ roster when he was on the Pats practice squad: “It’s the Patriots, an organization that wins. I felt like my best opportunity was here. It seems like to me, being here, they develop players very well. Being a bottom-rung guy, which I was coming in, it’s nice to be in a place where they are developing you and trying to get you better.”

Favorite teams growing up: “I’m from outside of L.A., so we didn’t have a team. I watched more college football.”

Favorite players growing up: “I loved Bruce Matthews. He was the reason I wanted to be an offensive lineman. Watching him play all the spots on the line, even back to the days with the Oilers when they became the Titans, that was my guy.”

How he overcomes being a smaller player among his peers: “The same way you do [laughing]. I think you have to play to your strengths. Fundamentally, your size, it’s all about leverage, proper position, technique, that kind of stuff. I can’t do anything to get taller or have longer arms, so I focus on the things I can work on, which is my technique and assignments.”

Summing up his football journey: “I’ve just tried to enjoy each step of the way. High school football was all I ever dreamed of, and all I ever wanted, and then someone said ‘Come play college football.’ I did that, and that was all I ever dreamed of and wanted at that time. When that ended, I was so fortunate and blessed with the opportunity to come here and be on the practice squad. I loved it. Each time you get a little taste of something more, you want a little more, but I know this is all a bonus, so I try to enjoy it.”