Patriots

Patriots' Mesko gets his kicks from working hard

832363.jpg

Patriots' Mesko gets his kicks from working hard

FOXBORO -- Attend a Patriots training camp session and you'll see various bits of football activity scattered all over the fields. In one spot, there are linebackers and running backs clashing in blitz pickup drills; in another, receivers battling defensive backs in 1-on-1s.

But with one guy, it's sometimes hard to tell what you're looking at.

Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko promises his work is important, no matter how simple it all looks.

"It's a lot of drills, a lot of fundamentals," he said. "But you have to be able to do the boring stuff to be able to enjoy the not-boring stuff, which is winning -- performing well."

He's at it from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., just like those glamorous receivers and quarterbacks. A lot of the time is spent in meetings, getting the mind refocused on football. And then he runs out, usually the first, for practice.

Mesko laughs to think of how it must look, the quartet of specialists spending so much time alone while the rest of the team draws the crowd's cheers with hard-hitting action.

"Not a lot of drills make sense," he said. "If you were to go out to see maybe track and field, like a javelin thrower or a hammer thrower, you're like, 'What's he doing?' because you're not familiar with the position. It's not in the spotlight all the time."

So what is he doing?

"I would say 90 percent of a punt is dictated by your drop, so I practice my drop a lot," he said. "And it doesn't take a lot of effort out of me to practice my drop, it's more of a skill than anything. But even if people tell you, 'Oh you're so smart, you're so smart,' it's the discipline to put in the hard work to overcome that boredom in the drills."

Yes, the punter has to stay competitive.

Mesko's spot on the team is secure; his 41.5 net average was best in the AFC and third-best in the league last year. His 46.5 overall average set a Patriots record.

But there are lots of punters looking for work, and they prey upon complacency.

"I want to be able to surpass that goal of beating the competition" he said. "There's so much competition. Because even if it's not direct, it's out there -- I just can't see it. There's so many free agents out there that want my position."

It's not fear as much as it's the recognition of reality. And Mesko knows what to do with it.

"You can take all these rah-rah speeches from all the coaches and psychiatric doctors, and read all the self-help books you can, but at the end of the day it comes from how you motivate yourself," he said. "I've had a good start in motivating myself in where I've come from in Romania, and living through what I've lived through to make the best life for myself.

Mesko grew up in Timisoara, the town that birthed 1989's Romanian Revolution. His earliest years coincided with the violence that overturned the country's Communist government. In 1997, his parents finally found a way out via America's green-card lottery.

Mesko was 10 when the trio landed in the U.S.

"There's no other formula that I look to besides hard work," he said. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he added: "Even though I've been given so much."

He's always had drive.

"I was always in love with competition, with winning," he said. "It's always been instilled in me, ever since playing soccer in the parking lots in Europe. You take off your sandals or the shirt off your back and you play 'til the night falls and your mom is screaming at you to get in the house at 11 p.m."

Mesko's father took him to professional sporting events, to soccer games especially. That's when he noticed something -- athletes were admired for their efforts. The better the talent and grind, the better they were appreciated.

He was attracted to the idea.

Now he's living it.

In the months following his sophomore season, the Patriots punter went to charity events, golf tournaments, Loudon's Sprint Cup race. He traveled. Somehow, he still considers himself a 'Joe Schmoe,' checking himself at every chance. But there's no missing the positive correlation between the success he's had and the work he's done. Even if the toil doesn't look typical.

"I love it," he says. "I love this job and I love what it allows me to do. It's cool that through hard work, things like this can be achieved."

EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

ex-pats-podcast17.png

EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

gillette_stadium_fog_102217.jpg

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen? 

Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed. 

Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again. 

"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.

"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.

"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."

Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.

"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."