FOXBORO (CBS) — Dont’a Hightower is back on the football field after being away for over a year. On Tuesday, the Patriots linebacker left no doubt that he is all-in on this season, dismissing any rumors that the 31-year-old may be considering retirement.

“I wouldn’t be out here doing this for free,” Hightower joked with reporters during his Zoom session following Tuesday’s minicamp practice outside of Gillette Stadium.

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Hightower was one of eight Patriots players to opt out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And though he enjoyed spending time with his wife and baby son, Hightower said that decision was made because it was best for his family. He never once considered retirement during his time away from football.

“All the rumors about retirement, you guys had me thinking someone was trying to kick me out,” Hightower said. “I did what I did because I thought it was best for my family. I feel different in the situation that I’m in now. But if I had to do it again, I would absolutely do it again. It was just for the season, I wasn’t planning one or two steps ahead.”

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Just because he was away doesn’t mean Hightower completely shut out football, either. He watched game film throughout last season, and stayed in shape with a Peloton bike at home, which was a nice alternative for the three-time Super Bowl champ because he hates running.

But he’s back to running once again, back at it at this week’s mandatory minicamp. His teammates on defense went wild on Tuesday when Hightower came down with an interception, and he said it’s great to be back with teammates new and old.

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“It feels good to be out on the field. It’s more about the locker room and being around these guys. I was in the house for a year, man. I love my wife and son, but I think she’s ready for me to be out here,” he joked. “I’m glad to be back and glad to be around all the guys.” Staff