Bodden backed a winner — himself
FOXBOROUGH — Leigh Bodden feels as though he’s been gambling on himself for years.
So when it was time to roll the dice again last year, he did so confidently, even as it seemed he was doing so against risky odds. But things broke in favor of the Patriots cornerback, and the payoff was worth it.
Released by the winless Lions for salary-cap reasons after the 2008 season, Bodden had multiyear contract offers, but elected to sign a one-year deal for $2.25 million with New England for 2009.
He did so in part because he wanted a chance to experience the playoffs for the first time. But also, after looking like a player on the rise in his final season with the Cleveland Browns, his stock fell a bit in Detroit, being part of a defense that snagged four interceptions all season (though Bodden did pull in the only pick by a member of the Lions’ secondary). Playing on a one-year contract put pressure on him to demonstrate that he was the solid cover corner he had shown to be with the Browns.
So Bodden bet on himself, as the football long shot has done throughout his playing days: he transferred high schools for a chance at more playing time, received no major-college scholarship offers despite recognition as one of the best athletes in the Hyattsville, Md., area, and was undrafted despite a stellar career at Duquesne. He played in 13 games as a rookie free agent for Cleveland in 2003, becoming a full-time starter his third year under former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Last year he had a standout season on the right side of the Patriots’ defense, with 55 tackles, 18 pass breakups, and a team-high five interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
“I’ve been taking a gamble on myself for a long time now, and I just believe in myself, no matter who believes in me,’’ Bodden said after a recent session of organized team activities. “[Taking the one-year deal] was the thing that I felt I needed to do and would put my faith in God and let him handle it.
“Everybody talked about, ‘What if you get hurt?’ I don’t worry about that. I just try to go out there and perform the way I perform and let everything else play out.’’
And when it was time to hit free agency again, arguably the best corner available on the market, Bodden cashed in.
He was courted heavily by the Texans, a team on the rise, and parlayed that interest into a four-year, 22.5 million deal to remain in New England.
“It feels good that the team wanted me and felt like I was part of the team, and that’s pretty much what I strive for,’’ Bodden said. “It’s not about the money, but the commitment of the team wanting me to be here. So that was really good to see that the Patriots stepped up and wanted me to be here.’’
With Shawn Springs being released in May, Bodden, a 28-year old entering his eighth season, is now the senior member of a young cornerback group that includes Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley, Devin McCourty, and Kyle Arrington, all of whom have been in the NFL for three years or fewer.
Quiet by nature, Bodden relishes his role as a leader, but acknowledges he is not the fiery type.
“When I was in Cleveland I was the oldest DB at one point, and that’s hard to believe [because] I think that was my fifth year. So I embrace it,’’ he said. “My coaches told me the young guys will look up to me regardless . . . I’m really not a vocal guy as far as telling guys what to do, but I try to lead by example and when they need help they can come to me or when I see something they need help on I’ll go to them.’’
Bodden is all about offering help these days. This spring, he fulfilled a goal of establishing a foundation, and awarded scholarships to student-athletes from his area in Prince George’s County, Md. He was on hand in May to award the top male and female graduating athletes at Northwestern (Bodden’s alma mater), Largo, and Suitland high schools $1,000 scholarships.
As it was his first go-round, Bodden left it up to administrators at each of the schools to determine which students would be honored; as time goes on, Bodden will tweak the criteria of what he’s looking for.
He remembers receiving an award as Northwestern’s top athlete, and wants to continue that tradition and hopefully inspire other teenagers from his area.
“It’s always good to see parents happy and proud of their kid and see kids happy to receive something like that, and to motivate other kids to excel in whatever they do,’’ he said.
In Bodden, those young men and women have proof that gambling on yourself is not a foolish bet.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, the figures for the 2009 contract signed by Leigh Bodden in an earlier version of this story were incorrect. Bodden signed a one-year contract for $2.25 million.