Nicholas Grigsby was always a Gronk fan and now is his teammate

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When New England Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater was asked his first impressions of linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who has quickly become a core contributor in the kicking game, he thought back to a past teammate.

“Over the course of my career, there have been a few guys that jump out at you with what they can do physically, and I think about Tracy White, who I played with earlier in my career. He was a linebacker who ran 4.3. When I think about Nicholas, it’s like Tracy White 2.0,” Slater said. “They actually have similar personalities, too – quiet guys, hardworking guys. This kid can run, and he can hit.”

White played in 42 games for the Patriots in the 2010-12 seasons as a core contributor on special teams. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Grigsby is just starting his NFL career, having entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016. The Patriots have had eyes on him since that time, and after injuries to Nate Ebner (knee) and Trevor Reilly in a Nov. 26 win over the Miami Dolphins, they signed him off the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad.

Grigsby was immediately inserted on the kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt return units and has already been credited with three tackles in the past three games.

“He’s come in and filled in nicely for us, like he’s been here all along,” Slater said. “He just comes in, puts his head down and works hard. You appreciate having guys like that round.”

And Grigsby, who grew up in Trotwood, Ohio, and attended the University of Pittsburgh, appreciates being around, even though his locker is tucked away in a far corner of the locker room.

He shares his “football journey” as part of ESPN.com’s weekly feature:

When he first started playing football: “Fourth grade is when I started organized football, for the Trotwood Rams. I wasn’t really good, but as the years went on, I got better. I was the shortest one on the team, but over the years, I had a little growth spurt and things started to come around.”

Role models in his life: “My mother [Ernestine]. She always pushed me to do the right thing. She grew up a sports fan, too, so she could give you both life and sports advice.”

Favorite professional teams/players growing up: “NBA or NFL? In the NFL, it was the Giants. NBA, Cavs fan. I always liked Ray Lewis -- he played fast, aggressive, physical. And Gronk [Rob Gronkowski]; I always liked the spike. In the NBA -- LeBron.”

Favorite football memories of Trotwood-Madison High School, where the team lost in the state playoffs his senior year: “Thursday night. We played Friday, and after every Thursday practice we would have dinner as a team. We used to sit at the table -- eat, laugh, joke around. It was just having fun with the team.”

Enrolling at University of Pittsburgh after also visiting Michigan State: “It wasn’t too far from home, the coaching staff made sure we got the right [support] -- as far as my education, they were upfront and honest. And they were Nike, which is my favorite.”

Top football memories in college: “Every Saturday. Just going out there and playing with my teammates, and coming back to the sideline and talking about how much fun we were having. Off the field, just hanging out; we had a place called Bouquet Gardens, where a lot of the football players stayed. So we’d play video games -- '2K' or UFC -- and if you lose, you had to get off the controller and you just pass it around.”

Expectations entering the 2016 NFL draft: “I just let the cards lay where they may lay after my college career. I had my pro day and put it all out there [running a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash], showed them what I could do. After that, it was just wait and be patient and see what happens. You’re always confident in your performance and what you do.”

Signing with the Rams after going undrafted: “The people -- players and coaches -- they were welcoming before I got there; texting me, 'Can’t wait until you get here' and things like that. I just felt like I could make an impact early and possibly play right away. They had a good special-teams coach [John Fassel]. I learned a lot of technique things -- a lot about football.”

Spending the first two months on the Rams' practice squad before getting called up: “You work all year, you practice and you’re hoping to play each week. Once you get that call, it’s like, ‘Now it’s time to show what you’ve been practicing and working on.’ You can put it on the field on Sunday.”

Being released by the Rams on Sept. 2 and joining the Ravens’ practice squad Sept. 19: “After I was released, it was back to the waiting game. You can’t be too impatient. You just have to trust the process and stay up on working out and make sure you’re ready whenever you’re called. Once I got the call from Baltimore, I was ready to go, but wasn’t satisfied that it was practice squad. I went in working each and every day as if I was playing on Sunday.”

Being signed off the practice squad to the Patriots’ 53-man roster on Nov. 28: “No hesitation. I wasn’t too shocked because you have to always be ready. I had come in previously to work out for them, and two other teams. It’s a great organization, you come in every day ready to work. I enjoy being here.”

Describing life as a Patriot: “Victorious.”

What he loves about the game of football: “Competitiveness. Each play, each and every day, you’re not only playing for your team, but you’re competing one-on-one against the man across from you. You want to win every time. I’m just very competitive, and I love playing as a team.”

Summing up his football journey: “Work. You just have to continue to work. They say 'work when no one is looking’ and how that really adds up. Whether it’s positive or negative, just continue to work and stay the path that you’re on and good things will come.”