<
>

Gostkowski adjusts to veteran status

CUMBERLAND, R.I. -- It doesn't seem that long ago when the New England Patriots selected kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round of the NFL draft, and Gostkowski was immediately saddled with replacing 10-year veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri.

It's hard to believe, but Gostkowski is now entering his eighth season with the Patriots, with only three other players -- quarterback Tom Brady, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and guard Logan Mankins -- having hung around New England longer.

Rounding out the team's efforts as part of Rhode Island Reading Week on Friday morning, Gostkowski read to students at Garvin Memorial Elementary School in Cumberland, most of whom were likely born after his 2006 debut with the Patriots.

"I tell people this is like my second senior year of college," Gostkowski told ESPNBoston.com after the event. "It's great to have been able to stick in one place for so long. You see so many other guys, especially at my position, who have played at three or four other teams."

Gostkowski is under contract with New England through the 2014 season, so it's unlikely that he'll be 'graduating' from the Patriots after this 'senior' year. But despite his longevity with the team, he takes nothing for granted.

"Just because you're in the eighth year doesn't make it any different," Gostkowski said. "Just because you've been in the league for a while doesn't give you the right to stay in the league, so you have to work just as hard to prove yourself, year in and year out."

The Patriots have yet to bring in competition for Gostkowski this offseason, after having former UMass kicker Chris Koepplin on their training camp roster the past two summers.

Yet not everything was perfect last season for Gostkowski, who is statistically the most accurate kicker in Patriots history. Asked generally about what he could improve on from last season, it was clear one missed field goal still plays out in his mind.

"Obviously the Arizona game is the kick that sticks out," referring to his miss of a would-be game-winning field goal in Week 2. "Obviously I'd like to avoid that. For me it was a learning experience and helped me out next time against the Jets when I had to hit the game-tying and game-winning kicks in overtime."

As is customary with these reading visits, Gostkowski gave out last season's team picture to the students in attendance. As he held it up for them to see, he pointed out himself, and then former teammate Wes Welker, noting that Welker wouldn't be with the team next season.

Afterwards, Gostkowski reflected on Welker's departure, a move that may sting the locker room more than others.

"Wes is a guy who got along with everybody. It's the one part of the business that I think it's hard to understand and wrap your head around," Gostkowski said. "But it's just part of the business that we have no control over, so worrying about it and thinking about it doesn't do any well. It's almost like you have to move on. Wes meant a lot to this team and it was definitely sad to see him go."

Gostkowski and his wife celebrated the birth of their second child this offseason, and the 29-year old has stayed in the area to train in advance of the offseason program, which starts on Monday.

"The (program) starts so much later than it used to," he noted. "So you have to do a whole lot more on your own. It'll be exciting to see everybody and get back into the swing of things."