BOSTON (CBS) — As Bill Belichick tends to do, he and the Patriots surprised a lot of football folks when they selected safety Kyle Dugger with the 37th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Friday night.
Dugger went to Division-II Lenoir-Rhyne University, not exactly a college football powerhouse. But Dugger possesses the physical traits of all the top safeties in the country, and Belichick is putting his belief in Dugger’s ability to compete at the sport’s highest level.READ MORE: 'Grateful That I Was There': Basketball Coach Saves Teen Who Collapsed During Foxboro Tournament
Shortly after the selection was made, Dugger spoke to the New England media on a conference call. Here’s what he had to say.
(Transcript provided by New England Patriots.)
Q: What was your reaction to being drafted? Did you have any sense the Patriots were interested in you?
KD: My reaction is hard to explain. But I’d say probably the closest thing would definitely be Christmas, my first Christmas, I would say. I did know that they were going to have interest in me. I was talking to them a lot during this process, a lot with [Brian] Belichick, and so I did know they were interested in me.
Q: You have been described as a versatile player who can play all over the field. How would you describe your playing style?
KD: I would agree. I would say aggressive style, smart, high IQ. Definitely learning while the game is going on, as well as from previous film study throughout the week. Definitely I would agree with that statement.
Q: You obviously dominated at the Division II level. What did the Senior Bowl do for you as far as matching up with big, Division I guys and holding your own?
KD: For me, it just gave me an opportunity to kind of solidify what I already knew, that I could play at this level, and just also the opportunity to play and learn from the coaching staff who was teaching me things and just learn things about myself while being able to study the short week of film. So, it kind of gave me an extra boost of confidence.
Q: Did you come off of that saying, ‘See, there you go. That’s what I was talking about?’
KD: Definitely. I was definitely rubbing in my hands in a way of, ‘I’m ready to continue to get better and I’m excited for the future and what I’ll be able to learn and how I’ll develop.’
Q: From your conversations with the Patriots coaching staff, what were the things they wanted to know most about you or ask about?
KD: A lot of it was just how I learn as a person, my character, how I felt about the game, how I approach the game off the field and kind of just my personality, how I learn and how I see the game. Just a lot of things with character and IQ, how I approach the game of football.
Q: Was there anything different about the way they interviewed you or the things they asked you relative to other teams?
KD: There were some differences in the way we conducted the meetings. It was definitely, the way we talked about football, it was very detailed, and I definitely enjoyed that. So, that was a big difference I noticed.
Q: How much would you say that playing at a Division II school has shaped you? Did that process of going through high school without Division I offers put a chip on your shoulder that you can carry with you?
KD: As far as a chip, yeah. It’s definitely grown into a mountain on my shoulders. It’s definitely something that’s going to be permanent. I’m going to carry it throughout my career as long as I have the opportunity to play the game. But Division II football, it may be different in the way that the program wasn’t made to produce NFL players. So a lot of the things, if I wanted to get better, I would have to take it into my own hands as far as my work ethic, the way I approached myself, how I looked at myself on film, how I critiqued myself. I really had to go the extra mile and not just look at who I’m playing against but kind of compare it to what I was trying to get to. It definitely developed a lot of the work ethic and the things that I do off the field, the way I look at film, the detail I look at film with, how I teach myself – it definitely developed the side for me.
Q: What can you tell us Lenoir-Rhyne and what it means to you to be the highest drafted player from that school?
KD: Lenoir-Rhyne is a small town, small campus, but the support is very apparent, I’d say. Just being from there, to be able to represent them in this situation is huge and the fact that they gave me the opportunity to play football and compete playing the game I love. So it’ll definitely be a huge honor to give them recognition and do something that they’ve never had done before.
Q: You played a lot of free safety in college. Were most conversations about you playing free safety in the NFL or coming down towards the box a little bit?READ MORE: Contagious Delta Variant Convinces Some Mass. Parents To Bring Students For COVID Vaccine
KD: It was a good mix of both. More so coming down to the box. It was a little bit of talk about free safety, though. But, it was definitely a pretty good mix of both.
Q: I believe you had six punt returns for touchdowns during college. How comfortable are you in the role as a punt returner?
KD: I’m very comfortable to follow my hands and being back there to catch the ball and receive and have an opportunity to change the game, other than being on the defensive side of the ball. So, I’d say really comfortable. I did play running back for the first 10 years of my football career, so I think it really stands out that I’ve got a feel for the football when I’m back to catch a punt.
Q: I believe you missed some time due to injury. How are you doing now?
KD: Yes, I did miss time with a finger, but it’s almost 100 percent. The mobility is there. Everything is completely back to normal almost, so things are really good.
Q: What do you know about Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung? What can you take from their games and what does the opportunity to learn from guys like that mean to you?
KD: To learn from guys like that – first of all, I do know about their intelligence and their football IQ. I’ve watched them play for a long time and I know a lot about their versatility, how they can do anything you ask of a DB on the football field. So to be able to learn from guys who have played at a level that high and have done it well for so long, it’s a huge honor. I’m definitely going to be soaking up everything I can from them and just making sure I listen and watch and be on them like a hawk trying to pick up everything I can from those guys.
Q: What does this day and this opportunity mean to you and your family?
KD: It’s huge for me. It’s definitely been a journey with a lot of ups and downs. It was a long time throughout high school and coming into college that I didn’t see this day as how it is now. It wasn’t in sight like it is now. Just to be able to represent my family and go through adversities and come from them, and to be able play for an organization like this is a huge honor and really an unexplainable feeling. I’m still kind of shocked honestly, but it’s really huge for me.
Q: How much does it feel like your hard work has paid off for you?
KD: It just makes me want it that much more. The good and the bad, it all paid off – without any light, going through times that can be described as dark times, just working through those. So it was definitely huge and makes me excited for the future, especially because I know I’m that much hungrier at this point and just it’s going to be incredible. I wanted this really bad.
Q: What has your impression of the Patriots been over the years, as well as joining the team right now and being part of what some people think is rebuilding?
KD: My impression of the Patriots is they’re a professional, great organization. They know how to win. They know the little details. They’re detail-oriented. They’re all bought in and they take it seriously. Everything out of my control, I don’t really have a lot to say about that. But what I do know about them is they’re professional and they’re going to figure out whatever needs to be figured out and continue to be a great organization.
Q: As an older rookie at 24 and probably more mature then others, does that feel like something you can be part of and feel the same way?
KD: Most definitely. I can’t really say I can compare, but it was a very similar situation multiple times throughout my college career where I can say I learned a great deal from things, from rebuilding and having to kind of do things differently. So, I definitely thinks it’s helpful and the journey that I had before this has come in handy a lot.
Q: In the pre-draft process, did the Patriots discuss your special teams ability with you, specifically as a punt and kick returner? Did they express that’s something they’ll want you to do in your first year?
KD: We definitely discussed those things. I know for a fact that I have a big role in the special teams department as far as punt returns if the opportunity presents itself. If I’ll be given the opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it and that’ll be it. But, as far as special teams as a whole, I definitely know I’m going to have a big role with that. They definitely told me about that.
Q: What could you take away from playing at the D-II level? Did you feel that prepared you enough for this type of jump here?
KD: For me, it was definitely the exterior part of the game, or basically the stuff you see that doesn’t go into game day, that you don’t see on the game day – the film study, how you prepare, things like that is the biggest takeaway for me, how to practice and things like that. So, there was definitely a lot of positive I could take away from playing at that level outside of the actual game play and preparation.
Q: What should we know about you beyond football? Can you tell us something about us that will surprise us?MORE NEWS: Brigham & Women's Virtual Prostate Cancer Clinic Offers Patients Convenience & Efficiency
KD: Well, you might find this out later, but I’m actually a lot goofier than I appear in the football setting. Outside of that, I’m a pretty high-energy guy. I take my work and things I love seriously, but outside of that, I’m a pretty goofy, pretty high-energy guy. That’s really what I can really say that you probably don’t know or you probably won’t get just from talking to me one time or anything.