Sports

Grafton’s Melifonwu has persevered on his journey to Super Bowl 53

New England Patriots defensive back Obi Melifonwu (22) warms up during a recent practice.

The phrase “blessing in disguise” doesn’t settle in until one looks back on a journey and reflects on the lessons learned from tackling obstacles. That’s one way to summarize Grafton native Obi Melifonwu’s journey to Super Bowl 53.

A safety/special teams player, Melifonwu’s season didn’t start the way he hoped it would. The Oakland Raiders placed him on injured reserve (IR) in August as he nursed a groin injury. Oakland released Melifonwu in October.

It didn’t take long for the Patriots to express their interest in bringing Melifonwu on board. Melifonwu signed a 2-year contract with his hometown team on Nov. 5. Now he’s one win away from helping the Patriots bring a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy to Foxborough.

“It feels great,” Melifonwu, 24, said. “This was always a dream of mine, ever since I could play football. To be able to play on the team I rooted for, ever since I started watching football, is nothing short of amazing.”

Although he underwent no shortage of trials at the start of the season, Melifonwu feels the obstacles were a necessary part of his journey. He kept faith, trusted the process and made the most of his opportunity when it presented itself.

“I’m a man of faith,” Melifonwu, a UConn product, said. “I like to think everything happens for a reason. That part of my journey helped get me to where I’m at now. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t want anything to happen differently because I wouldn’t be at this point with this team.”

Melifonwu’s faith and perseverance are what most impressed his agent, Salem native Sean Stellato.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” Stellato said. “Out of any player I’ve represented, he’s gotten the biggest dose from every side of the game. From getting injured, to getting cut, it’s the uncertainty of what’s going to happen. It’s a testament to Obi and his mom, Tina. Some guys would’ve taken a knee but Obi was raised with strong faith. I’m proud to be part of his journey.”

Since joining the Patriots, Melifonwu has made it a point to learn “the Patriot way.” He recorded three tackles in two games during the regular season and logged one tackle in the AFC Championship game, a 37-31 overtime win, at Kansas City.

“I’ve learned that you have to check your ego at the door,” Melifonwu said. “The Patriots motto is ‘do your job’ and that’s something I’ve embraced. I’m just doing my job, taking everything one day at a time, one practice at a time, one meeting at a time. That’s really what I’ve embraced most from being part of this team.

“I’m focused on doing my job right now, whatever that entails. I’m focused on doing the best I can to help this team.”

As Melifonwu continues to carve a role for himself with the Patriots, Stellato remains confident that his best football remains in front of him.

“It teaches you resiliency,” Stellato said. “If you can take that mantra of getting knocked down and getting back up, there’s a correlation in life. When Obi gets going full stride, he’s going to do a lot of special things on that field.”

Melifonwu said he doesn’t take his opportunity for granted.

“It’s something that’s really special to me,” Melifonwu said. “As a little kid, I dreamed and prepared to be in the position I’m in. It’s definitely a blessing. I don’t take it for granted. Every time I walk into the building, I give it my all. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Patriots gave me to continue my dream on playing in the NFL.”

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