Football journey: DE Michael Buchanan

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots have had success finding front-line contributors in the seventh round of the NFL draft in recent years, and rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan could be next in the pipeline.

The 226th overall pick out of the University of Illinois opened the season as the team’s top nickel rusher, a role previously held by the likes of Tully Banta-Cain, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. While Buchanan isn’t currently playing as much on defense as he did earlier in the season, a result of Carter’s late-October return to the team, he’s still finding other ways to contribute.

“Now I’ve been asked to take on more of a special-teams role and I’m embracing that,” he said. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. Even to be out there on the field as a rookie is a blessing.”

Buchanan, of course, had a key fumble recovery of a Julian Edelman muffed punt in the team’s overtime victory over the Broncos on Nov. 24.

One of the things that stands out with Buchanan is physical traits – at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, he is tall and has long arms. That’s been something that has been with him throughout his playing days, which is why he’s always worn No. 99.

“The teams I played on [as a youngster], the higher the number got, those usually went to the biggest players – and I was always tall. So 99 was the only one that fit me,” he said. “After that, it kind of stuck with me.”

Buchanan, who dons No. 99 with the Patriots, shares his “football journey”:

When he first started playing football: “I first tried in the third grade but I was too tall and didn't make weight. My mother didn’t want me to play up with the bigger, older kids. So my first official year playing was fourth grade.”

What got him started: “I was always playing sports and was always around sports when I was younger -- just playing in the streets, playing basketball, football, baseball, everything outside. After a while, my mother thought I should start doing organized sports because she saw I was pretty good at it. That’s how I got my start.”

First positions in football: “I was always a defensive end/outside linebacker. I played some wide receiver, tight end, and got to play running back for a few games.”

Favorite football teams growing up: “Being from Chicago, I was obviously a fan of the Chicago Bears and liked their defense – guys like Brian Urlacher. I was also a fan of the Eagles. I was always a Donovan McNabb fan and he’s from the area also.”

Role models growing up: “My biggest role model was my mother [Lolita Jordan]. She raised three boys, pretty much on her own. The biggest thing I learned from her was just strength and standing up for your family. I’ve seen her go through so much. My little brothers’ father weren’t really in their lives and we had our struggles growing up. She’s my rock. We had some tough times but she would never let it impact us; she wouldn’t show it and I didn’t realize it until I was older. Also, my father [Michael Buchanan Sr.]. One thing he definitely taught me was that somebody might have more talent than you, but hard work can beat talent. That’s something I’ve tried to live my life by, sports wise, always going hard and trying not to take a play off.”

Top football memories of Homewood Flossmoor High School: “One of the top memories was being elected captain of the team my junior year. The reason that was impactful to me was that we had a number of highly recruited seniors. The whole team was pretty much made up of seniors and for me to be a junior and a captain was pretty big. Also, my junior year, we made a run to the playoffs. We got to the game right before state.”

Why attending Illinois was the right choice: “For a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s my home state. I definitely wanted to stay in state and represent where I’m from. It was good for me to go there because I’m the oldest of four and I wanted to be close to home to be around my little brothers and sisters. Also, because I was obviously a big fan of Coach [Ron] Zook at the time he was there. He told me I would come in and play and by my second year I would be starting. That ended up being true.”

Top football memories at Illinois: “Back-to-back bowl games. That was something Illinois had never done before.”

Expectations entering the NFL draft: “I really didn’t know. I heard a number of different things, but what I knew for sure was that I was given – somehow, somewhere – an opportunity to play in the NFL. That’s all I really cared about.”

Reacting to being selected in the seventh round by the Patriots: “To be in this organization, you’re blessed. From top to bottom, this is one of the greatest organizations in the NFL. I knew I would be given a fair opportunity to show my talents. I was really excited when I got that call.”

What he loves about football: “The intensity of it. If you make that big play, that sack, there is no other feeling like it. I just love being able to play a game when 11 guys are on the field at the same time and working towards a common goal.”

Lessons from the game of football: “You have to be consistent. Week in and week out, play after play after play, you can never get relaxed. You have to approach every single moment you have like a professional.”

Summing up his football journey: “It’s a journey that is yet to be completed. Still a long journey to go.”