THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Wilfork tackles a few topical issues

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 14, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — For even a casual NFL fan, it would be hard not to take notice of the offseason moves the New York Jets have been making.

At least one member of the Patriots is definitely informed about New York’s many machinations, and he is impressed by his AFC East rivals — but not intimidated.

“Hey, the game is played between these lines out here,’’ Vince Wilfork said yesterday during a sideline chat with media at Gillette Stadium. “They’re making moves. They’re making great moves. But at the end of the day, the game is played between the lines.

“It doesn’t mean anything to us one way or the other. We see each other twice a year, sometimes three, so it doesn’t bother us whatsoever. We can only control what the Patriots can control.’’

Wilfork was standing on a slight riser just off the new FieldTurf surface, the video board over his shoulder glowing with the logo for his annual draft party and fund-raiser, which will be next Thursday night in conjunction with the first round of the NFL draft.

It was the first time since his contract-extension conference call that the nose tackle had spoken to reporters, and now, as then, he seemed much more at ease. Wilfork signed a five-year contract to stay in New England, which is what he wanted all along, and he’s the highest-paid nose tackle in the league to boot.

For the draft party, Wilfork has teamed with Pinz bowling lanes in Milford and will raise money for a cause near to his heart: diabetes research. His father, David, died from complications of the disease when Wilfork was at the University of Miami.

Yesterday Wilfork recalled his own draft experience, when he was the 21st pick in 2004.

“That day changed my life,’’ he said. “Everybody that goes through that day, it’s a changing point in your life. I can recall sitting with my wife, some family and friends, just sitting back wondering where I was going to go.

“I was the last Hurricane player [of six in the first round] to get picked, but I was the first to get a [Super Bowl] ring. It’s an awesome feeling, something you work so hard for your whole career.’’

Projected to go in the first half of the opening round, Wilfork had to wait a bit longer. For the young men who face a similar wait next week, he offers some guidance: He says to remember that “a lot of guys get told a lot of stuff. I never had a clue I’d be in New England. But keep your poise, and when you get that phone call, believe it’s true. I fell to 21, but a year later I was a Super Bowl champion.’’

Wilfork, who would become a two-time Pro Bowler, was mentored by players such as Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, and Roman Phifer. Now he is someone the young players seek out. Having been a team captain last season, he was already considered a leader on and off the field, and his importance to the Patriots was only fortified by his new deal.

One of last year’s second-round picks, Boston College defensive lineman Ron Brace, is one player Wilfork is guiding.

“I just have to be someone these guys can turn to,’’ said Wilfork. “Ron is one we expect big things out of, and he’s not the only one in that boat.’’

Asked how he would like the Patriots to use their 12 selections this year, Wilfork said with a hearty chuckle, “D-linemen! I hope all our picks are defensive picks.’’

As to which player he would select at New England’s 22d position in the first round, Wilfork said it was too early to reveal his choice, and joked that he’s been wrong about it every year.

When he wasn’t lobbying for Bill Belichick & Co. to fill up the linemen’s meeting room, the 28-year-old was sounding an optimistic tone for the upcoming season.

“Obviously, we didn’t do a good job last year; that has to be fixed,’’ he said. “We have to go out and execute. We want to win football games, and it starts now.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com.

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