Dont’a Hightower was not the only member of the New England Patriots to opt out of the 2020 season. However, he was the most prominent among the team’s league-high eight players to step away for a year over concerns about the Coronavirus.
How much his absence contributed to the team fielding an inconsistent defense one year after being the best unit in football cannot be said. Certainly, though, it could not have helped New England while it stumbled to a 7-9 record — the first losing season since 2000.
And yet, Hightower has no regrets about how things went down for him personally.
“My primary goal at that time was to take care of my family, and I felt like I did the right thing,” he told Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe. “If I had to do it again, I’d definitely do it the same way.”
Hightower was the fourth of eight Patriots to announce his decision to opt out, taking to social media to let his fans know that it was not an easy one but one he felt he had to make given that it was the best course of action for his family. At that point in time his firstborn son, Grayson Dash, was not even two weeks old.
To take care of his family as best as possible, Hightower took one year off — stepping away from his role as a team captain to becoming a fan. Through it all, though, he still tried to remain in touch with his teammates.
“Just talking to them and telling them what I see on film and asking if they had any questions. I was a part of it as much as I could. I couldn’t be a leader. It’s not like being here and being actually involved in the meetings,” he said.
Despite Hightower’s attempts at helping his teammates out, his loss was not easily compensated. Add the circumstances created by the pandemic — no traditional offseason or postseason play as well as some in-season disruptions — and you get the perfect recipe for a disappointing season.
And yet, Hightower is looking to the future.
“The season was tough, with a lot of guys taking the opt-out and then a lot of the new guys coming in and having to learn that stuff on the ropes. But you know what? You try to move past that,” he said.
Amidst some speculation that he too might decide to call it a career after his opt-out, Hightower returned to the practice fields just ahead of New England’s mandatory minicamp. He will again play a crucial role for the team’s revamped defense this season — sliding back into his old spot as the group’s main communicator, one of its leaders, and a versatile presence capable of aligning all over the formation.
“I enjoyed my time with my family and I’m excited to be back in camp with everybody and get to work,” he told the Boston Globe.