"We called [Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett] the day of the draft and said, ‘What’s the deal with this guy?’ because [center Bryan Stork] had a few injuries in college," New England Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said. "Rick said, ‘He’s one of the toughest guys you’ll ever meet. Get him on your side, and he’ll run through a wall for you.’ It’s played out exactly like he said it would."
The Patriots knew that All Pro guard Logan Mankins was towards the end of his storied career as they went into the 2014 NFL Draft. They knew that the team would need to find someone to step in as an enforcer on the line, as a leader, and as someone who can bring the team into the jaws of hell and back again.
New England selected three offensive linemen in the draft. One was a fourth round rocket scientist out of Stanford, tackle Cameron Fleming, although his selection appears to be as insurance for the soon-to-be 31 year old Sebastian Vollmer.
Another was a 6th round guard in Jon Halapio, a tough as nails lineman who played through blindness and torn muscles. He fit the requirement for toughness, but with an uphill climb as a 6th round pick, he didn't have the immediate lateral movement necessary to buy more time so he could eventually thrive in the Patriots offense.
The third lineman is a sonnuvagun from college football's 2013 National Championship team. He was a converted tight end (you know how the Patriots love athleticism on the offensive line) and long time starter and team captain. He's also "one of the toughest guys you'll ever meet."
I'm pretty sure that Bill Belichick's spirit animal is Bryan Stork.
Stork was injured early on in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens, but is looking to make his return in the Super Bowl. If he grits through the Super Bowl with his injury, he'll be well on his way of living up to the standards of insanity set by Logan Mankins, who played through the entire 2011 season and Super Bowl on a torn ACL.
Stories have leaked out about how little he wants to speak with the media and his responses are truly magnificent.
Our friend Eric Edholm over at Yahoo tried to speak with Stork during the media day, with very little success:
Me: "Well, I want to ask you about Week 4, your first start ..."
Stork: "When was this?"
Me: "Week 4."
Stork: "What about it?"
Me: "How far have you come as an offense since-"
Stork: "What happened Week 4?"
Me: "You lost a game to the Kansas City Chiefs. I think it was 41-14, if I remember correctly."
Stork: "Oh, that game? Oh. What about it."
At this point, steam slowly issued from his ears. If this was a one-on-one blocking drill, to use offensive-line parlance, he would have pancaked me three straight reps. His game is intimidation and power, so it's not stunning that his off-field body of work treaded on similar themes.
The Florida Times-Union, from close to where he played college football, couldn't even sneak an answer out of Stork.
This was his exchange with the Times-Union on Wednesday morning at the Patriots' team hotel.
Question: How much did offensive line coach Rick Trickett help you at Florida State?
Answer: "A great deal, yeah."
(The softball question didn't work.)
Q: Did Trickett start by breaking you down and then building you up in his mold?
A: "Yeah, I'd say so."
(That wasn't a trick question.)
Q: How so?
A: "He made me tougher as the years went on."
(OK, there's something useful we can address later.)
Q: When did you turn a corner this year and feel you were ready to start?
A: "I was just taking it day by day."
(Time to abort.)
This is a player after the heart of his head coach. He won't talk about the past. He's taking everything day-by-day. He'll gladly stiffarm any inquiry into his mental approach. He'll fight through injuries, he'll make the calls on the line, and he'll grow every single day.
Stork has spent extra time with Tom Brady over the past few months to improve their connection and to help make the offensive line a better unit. He's tried to make the transition from college to the pros as seamless as possible by asking endless questions to all of his teammates until he was ready to play.
While the Patriots struggled early on in the year as they adjusted to the loss of Mankins, it's poetic that the Patriots righted the ship once they put Stork into the line-up. The baton for crazy, strong, leaders on the offensive line had been passed and Stork is now in full command.
Hell, Stork dumped his girlfriend so he could focus on the Patriots, claiming "I have bigger things to worry about than her."
The rookie center is expected to start on Sunday and if he plays well, it won't come as a surprise to his teammates. As Jimmy Garoppolo put it, "He's a badass...you can't ask for a better lineman than that."