September 10, 2013

Patriots Beat: Mainer's journey through NFL leads to a stop with Patriots

By Mike Lowe
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Matthew Mulligan has learned rather quickly that things happen quickly in the NFL.

You're on one team's roster one week, another team's roster the next.

Mulligan hopes his latest stay is a little longer than his last two. Mulligan, a West Enfield native and graduate of tiny Penobscot Valley High in Howland -- about 30 miles north of Bangor -- signed Tuesday with the New England Patriots, just three days after he was released by the Green Bay Packers in their final cut.

"It was quick, as everything in the NFL happens," Mulligan said Wednesday. "I was surprised at being released, but I'm just happy the Patriots called and gave me the opportunity to continue my career."

It's a career that, frankly, few could have predicted.

Mulligan's story is unique; he never played high school football. Penobscot Valley offered only soccer in the fall and he was quite good at it. He didn't start playing football until his sophomore year at Husson University, when the friend of a cousin told Coach Gabby Price that he had to get Mulligan to play football.

After a year at Husson, he transferred to the University of Maine, where he played two seasons. Jack Cosgrove, the Black Bears' coach, said he "learned the game" in Orono.

Mulligan admits it wasn't easy.

"It was a huge transition," he said. "Actually I think at first the coaches thought I had a learning disability. There's nothing wrong with it but I had no idea. It was like, 'Why do you not understand how to get in the line? How come you don't understand what I'm talking about?

"And I was like, 'I've never played prior to last year.' It's definitely been a learning curve (and) I'm still behind the eight ball as far as instincts go. But I feel these last six years of my career I've been starting to really come along."

There are several NFL teams that agree. After two years at Maine, where he caught 21 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, he signed as an undrafted free agent with Miami. He spent a year on the Dolphins' practice squad, then a year on Tennessee's practice squad.

Then he made the big team. He played three seasons with the New York Jets and last year with the St. Louis Rams. In 50 NFL games, he has caught 14 balls for 144 yards and a touchdown.

His forte has been, and is, blocking. At 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, he has the size to take on anyone. And the foot skills he learned playing soccer and basketball are pivotal in his blocking ability.

"They told me when I first got into the NFL you want to have something that nobody else does, something that you do really well," said Mulligan. "And there are a lot of good blockers in the league, obviously. But what I've been able to do is be able to block. That's what teams have wanted me for."

The Patriots are the latest. Coach Bill Belichick has commented on Mulligan's blocking ability and quarterback Tom Brady is looking forward to working with him.

Mulligan has to learn quickly. The season opens Sunday at Buffalo.

"That's part of being a professional," he said. "You're expected to get into your playbook and understand things quickly. The NFL happens fast."

Those who know Mulligan know he'll be ready.

"Once you've been in one, NFL systems are pretty much the same except for the verbiage," said Matt King, a teammate of Mulligan's at Maine and now the university's strength and conditioning head coach. "There might be a certain call, or check, on a play that Green Bay calls differently from the Patriots, but it's the same thing. Once Matt gets that down and understands the system he's in, he'll be all right."

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