BOSTON (CBS) – Patriots rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower has made his mark on the New England defense this season.
He has 37 total tackles in his 10 games so far this season, taking his spot alongside Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to form one of the better linebacking trios in the NFL. When he scored a touchdown in his first game, a six-yard fumble return against the Titans in Week 1, it was clear that Hightower would be making a difference sooner rather than later.
But if he seemed a little too comfortable for a linebacker waltzing into the end zone in his first NFL game, it’s because he had plenty of experience back in high school. Not only was Hightower a standout linebacker and tight end while at Marshall County High School in Lewisburg, Tennessee, he was a pretty good running back as well.
At least for his sophomore year. And his success wasn’t over an entire season. Hightower took over in the backfield with just four games left in the season, and still broke the 1,000 yard mark.
“Our starting running back quit in the middle of a game, and coach didn’t really give me an option – he just threw me in there,” Hightower explained to WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton for Sunday’s Patriots GameDay. “I was the short-yard guy, but from then on it was nothing but trying to get touchdowns.”
And score touchdowns he did. Hightower found the end zone seven times over those final four games.
After that season, Hightower shifted his focus on to defense. While he thrived on both sides of the field, he knew he loved playing defense — and would rather be the hitter than be hit.
“I felt like it was more natural, more instincts,” he said of playing on defense. “Growing up, even in Pee Wee, I played linebacker, running back and tight end. Growing up, (defense) seemed more instinctive, easier to learn.”
“It was easier for me; I see a guy, hit a guy,” he said causally. “On offense, you’re looking to avoid people. On defense, as long as you put somebody on their back, it’s good.”
Hightower went on to win two National Championships while at Alabama, and was named an All American in 2011. He totaled 235 tackles and register four sacks in his four years at Alabama, learning a NFL system under head coach Nick Saban — who he said is a splitting image of Bill Belichick.
Belichick and Saban run a similar system, so Hightower was ecstatic when the Patriots called his name with the 25th overall pick in last year’s NFL draft. He said the transition from college to the pros has been a lot easier because of that.
And, there is always the chance Belichick may call his name on the offensive side, much like he did with linebacker Mike Vrabel during his playing days.
Read: Patriots-Texans Preview
“I’m just telling you, if coach Belichick and Josh (McDaniels) give me a chance to go out on offense, Gronk, Hernandez, Ridley – I’m talking about you – some of those guys are going to be jealous because I’m not dropping the ball,” Hightower said with a huge smile on his face. “Throw me the seven route in the back of the end zone, and I’m going to get it.”
“I’ll deliver; it’s seven,” he said confidently.
Find out which current teammate Hightower used to look up to before making it to the pros and all of Steve Burton’s sit down with the rookie linebacker Sunday morning at 11:30am on WBZ-TV’s Patriots GameDay!