Love: Lots to like

Patriot vows never to stop working to earn spot

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 21, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - During his time at Mississippi State, teammates began calling Kyle Love “Mini-V’’ for his resemblance to Vince Wilfork.

The nickname piqued Love’s interest in the Patriots nose tackle, and Love started paying closer attention to the man who anchored the middle of New England’s defensive line.

Little did Love know that when his days with the Bulldogs were done he’d become teammates with the man he tried to emulate.

“Oh, he’s a big influence, like a big brother to me,’’ the 24-year-old Love said yesterday. “He’s been showing me the ropes since Day One.

“I stay close to that guy always. Watch me out here, I’m right beside him, no matter what. I’ve always got his back and I know he’s always got mine.’’

Thursday night in Tampa, Love was alongside Wilfork at the start of the preseason game as the Patriots rotated defensive tackles. Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth have missed time, giving Love more opportunities to play.

“We just want to go out there and play hard,’’ Love said of pairing with Wilfork. “Coach gave us a challenge and we took it and ran with it, and that’s how we’re going to continue to play.’’

Signed as a rookie free agent last year, Love impressed the coaching staff enough to make the 53-man roster, and is now part of the youth movement on defense.

After playing in only one of the first eight games, Love worked his way into the defensive line rotation midway through last season, and earned his first start in the regular-season finale against the Dolphins. He had his first sack the week before against the Bills.

While Love overcame the long odds a lot of undrafted rookies face, he has vowed to take nothing for granted.

“I’m always trying to fight every day,’’ he said. “I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder. I feel like my life here is harder so I just try to give it my all every day, try to do the best I can, try to get better as the day goes on.’’

Asked what he meant by his life in New England being harder, Love explained, “Coming in as an undrafted rookie, I feel like I’ve always got to push. I’ve been like that all my life, since high school, so it’s nothing new to me. I’m just going to keep on fighting.’’

Hanging on to the fact that he was undrafted could serve Love well. Rodney Harrison never forgot that he was a fifth-round pick, and practiced every day as though he were fighting for his job, even after a decade in the NFL.

“I feel like if I keep that mentality I’ll stay around, so that’s going to be my mentality my whole career,’’ Love said.

Love continues to be pushed by his father, retired Army colonel Anthony Love (Kyle was born in South Korea because of his father’s military travels).

“My dad, he’s a big key to my success. He always tells me to give my all no matter what, give the coaches a reason to keep me,’’ said Love. “He’s always been like that, even since high school, middle school, so my life hasn’t changed since.

“Every game day, the day of or the day before, he sends me a text message or some kind of - something to get me excited, some kind of words of encouragement.’’

The words of his father, and a look around the locker room to see the number of defensive linemen against whom he’s competing, are reasons Love will never lose the sizable chip he carries.

He insists there hasn’t been a moment in the year-plus he’s been a Patriot where he’s let himself feel comfortable.

“I don’t really feel like I belonged all along, I just feel like I’m just going to do whatever I have to do to stay around,’’ said Love, who married his college sweetheart, Constance Walker, July 16.

He doesn’t quite believe he belongs, he refuses to feel comfortable, and he refuses to say he’s pleased with his progress. Based on that, Love may very well continue to have success.

“I wouldn’t say pleased,’’ he said. “I think I can do more, I think I can do better, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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