FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- First came a season-ending ruptured Achilles injury late last September. Then came a contract squabble in the offseason.
It's been an eventful nine months for New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who said Thursday that he has no limitations on what he can do physically and has put any hard business-based feelings behind him.
"I'm not surprised," Wilfork said after the team's final practice of mandatory minicamp, in his first extensive remarks since the injury and his contract negotiation. "I know there are a bunch of stats and everything going against a person my size (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) with the injury. Right now, I can't ask for it to be any better.
"It was never in my mind that I thought I could never come back from this," he continued. "From the time they told me I did, from the time I had the surgery, I knew that I was going to be back ready to rock and roll. I knew it was going to be tough. I know how tough the injury is, but I tell myself over and over again, I'm not the average person. I just do things a little differently than most people that had this injury, or the size of people that had this injury.
"I'm going to stick with my guns until I prove myself wrong. That's always going to be my motto. I'm going to be true to myself."
Wilfork takes a similar approach from a contract perspective, and there was a time this offseason when his future with the club hung in the sensitive balance. Wilfork ultimately had his contract extended through 2016, but some concessions were made.
"That's a dead issue. I'm here for a reason," said the longtime team captain. "If I didn't believe the things that were brought to me, I wouldn't have signed it. I'm not upset. I'm not holding any type of grudge. Business is business and everybody handles business in different types of ways.
"In my career, I think the right thing was for me to be up here with my family and teammates, and a staff I've been around for so long, and an organization I know. It was a smart decision for me and my family to be here. If we think it wouldn't work, we wouldn't be here. That is something that happened a while ago and that's the first time I've actually talked about it. It's a non-issue."
Asked if he considered the possibility of playing for another team, Wilfork turned to humor.
"Who knows what might have happened? I could have gotten drafted somewhere else too. It's always something 'what if?' If the if was fifth, we'd all be drunk, right?" Wilfork cracked.
On a more serious note, Wilfork discussed how 2014 is shaping up to be one of the most meaningful of his 11-year career, starting with being ready for training camp in late July.
"I think this year is probably going to be one of the most exciting times in my career to actually put pads on and be able to practice. Every year I'm excited but I think this year is going to be a little more special because of what I've been through and how far I came along," he said.
"I'm very happy. Excited. It's been a long time being able to step out here with the guys. Just to take that step is very important to me. We still have a lot to do, but I'm very confident where I'm at. I'll continue to just get better. It's going to take time but I'm very positive where I'm at right now. [Doctor] Thomas Gill, with the surgery and everything, everything went well. It healed up fine. It's just knocking the rust off.
"Being away from football a long time, any time you look back at doing something you love, it's always a positive. That's where I'm at right now -- having fun still, still love the game, teammates. I'm just happy to be back."
Wilfork was asked if he looks at the stats of players who ruptured an Achilles as a source of motivation.
"Not really," he answered. "Everything has stats, everything you do in life there's always something that says you can't do it or you should be able to do it because of this or whatever it may be. For me, I know my body. I know what it takes to be at the top of my level, the top of my game. I know how hard it's going to be, but I've never shied away from competition or a challenge.
"This is a big challenge for me, the first time in my career getting sidelined from a major injury. Everything was new to me. It was something I had to learn to do, to be patient and focus on just rehabbing and just building up the strength and confidence to be able to move and play. That confidence is going to continue to get built throughout practices, throughout rehab, throughout strength and conditioning, whatever it may be. It's going to be a growing process.
"I'm up for the challenge. Like I say, I can't be any happier than where I am right now. As long as everything keeps going the way they're going, I'll be fine"
Wilfork said by the time training camp arrives, he envisions being "at the point where I'm very, very happy."
"I'm at a level now back doing something I love to do. I don't take it for granted. I never have, I never will," he said. "Just being out, being away from it, it has you reflect on some things. I did. Any person would, especially at my age (32) or whatever.
"It's too easy to give up. I'd never give up something up I believe in and that's football and this team. As long as I have my teammates and coaches, supporting me, I'll be fine."