FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Zoltan Mesko could have a locker near Tom Brady in the New England Patriots training camp. He expects to be star-struck even though he already has an edge on the star quarterback.
The Patriots drafted the punter from Michigan in the fifth round on Saturday. A decade earlier, they chose Brady from the same school — in the sixth round.
“I was just thinking of that, but I didn’t want to mention it,” Mesko said. “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.”
Mesko came to the United States with his family from Romania at age 11. They were in New York for about a year before settling in Ohio. He ended up as a captain at Michigan, a rare distinction for a punter.
“Whenever someone needed my guidance or help, I was there for them, one on one,” he said.
The Patriots certainly could use his help.
The only punter on their roster before the draft was former Australian Rules football player David King, who signed about 10 days earlier. Bill Belichick led the Patriots to three Super Bowls but has had four punters in his 10 years as their coach. Chris Hanson, who handled the job the past three seasons, is a free agent. He dressed a few stalls away from Brady.
“Tom Brady’s my favorite player in the whole NFL just because he has that Michigan tie and he’s done such a great job of overcoming being drafted in the sixth round,” said Mesko, the first punter drafted this year. “It’s crazy how much he has done and how many people he has proved wrong. So that’s my philosophy in life. I get motivated more about the negative things that are said about me.”
In four years at Michigan, he averaged 42.5 yards. His 252 punts and 10,703 yards are school records with no blocks.
“I hate tooting my own horn, but I’m fairly good at getting high snaps because of my, I guess, leaping ability,” the 6-foot-5 Mesko said. In eighth grade, I actually dunked my first basketball in a game.”
The Patriots would be happy if he stayed off the field. That would mean the offense is clicking.
They added three offensive players who could help move the ball — tight ends Rob Gronkowski of Arizona and Aaron Hernandez of Florida and wide receiver Taylor Price of Ohio.
The Patriots’ greatest need was on defense, and they used three of their first four choices in the three-day draft on that side of the ball. They took cornerback Devin McCourty of Rutgers in the first round before drafting Gronkowski with their first pick of the second.
Then they took two more Florida players, defensive end-linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes with their other two second-round selections.
“Early in my college career, the first two years, I played safety,” McCourty said. “I was used to playing physical and kept that a part of my game when I moved to corner. It was natural to me to come up and make tackles when you have to.”
He’s been compared recently to Darrelle Revis, the New York Jets outstanding cornerback.
“I think it all started in the draft process because I played at Rutgers and the Jets are so close and he’s one of the top guys in the NFL,” Revis said. “I think everyone started making that comparison. He’s a great player.”
By taking Hernandez in the fourth round Saturday after drafting Gronkowski a day earlier, the Patriots stocked up at a position where they had little depth. Their only tight end who played in an NFL game is Alge Crumpler, primarily a blocker.
Like Mesko, Hernandez also idolized a Patriots quarterback. This one was the first pick of the entire 1993 draft.
“I’m from Connecticut and I grew up a Drew Bledsoe fan and my goal was to play for the Patriots,” he said. “I just remember getting that first Patriots jersey and wearing his jersey all around my house.”
In college, Hernandez played with another star quarterback, Tim Tebow, and set records for Florida tight ends last season with 68 catches and 850 yards receiving.
Now he’ll play with Brady.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said, “but I’m just glad I’m going to a team that has a great quarterback.”
In the sixth round, the Patriots drafted center Ted Larsen of North Carolina State. With their four seventh-round picks, they chose offensive lineman Thomas Welch of Vanderbilt, defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick of Alabama and Kade Weston of Georgia and quarterback Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State.