Proving he should have been a draft choice, Bradwell alum Gary Guyton continues to make the big plays in the NFL. The New England Patriot linebacker is credited with igniting the defense with the first of seven turnovers in last Sunday’s 34-3 Patriots’ win over the Buffalo Bills.
Guyton knocked the ball out of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hand as he attempted to get rid of the pigskin while falling down. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo fell on the ball and the turnover led to a 17-3 lead with 3:46 left in the first quarter.
Seven turnovers and short fields later, the Patriots won 34-3.
This season Guyton has played in 15 games with 42 solo tackles and 19 assists. He has three sacks and two interceptions, including one for a 59-yard touchdown — the same number he wears on his jersey. Since becoming a Patriot in 2008, Guyton has played in 46 games and has combined for 180 tackles.
Not bad for someone who was passed over in the 2008 NFL draft.
According to Guyton’s agent, Vijay Natarajan, emerging from the shadows is something Guyton has done for most of his career.
"Gary had a very solid career at Georgia Tech, but seemed to play in the shadow of Philip Wheeler, the Indianapolis Colts’ third round selection in 2008," Natarajan said in a news release.
Despite an impressive career at Georgia Tech, Guyton was overlooked by the 2008 Senior Bowl committee.
"But when a player withdrew, I convinced Steve Hale, the director of the Senior Bowl, to add Gary as a late entry to the game," Natarajan said. "Gary arrived mid-week, but quickly picked up the defensive playbook and ultimately led the South squad with five tackles."
Natarajan said 34 linebackers were selected for the NFL in the 2008 draft, and Guyton wasn’t one of them despite his posting the best times in the 40-meter dash and the 10-yard start and dash. The Patriots also overlooked Guyton, selecting Shawn Crable in the third round, Bo Ruud in the sixth and Jerod Mayo in the 10th round.
Guyton signed with the Patriots as a free agent in May 2008, and then had to emerge from the shadows of veteran linebackers Tedy Bruschi, a two-time pro-bowler, NFL come-back player of the year and member of three Patriot Super Bowl teams; Junior Seau, a perennial all-pro and 12-time pro-bowl player who re-signed with the Patriots in December of 2008 when Adalius Thomas was placed on injured reserve; Mike Vrabel, Eric Alexander, Pierre Woods and Larry Izzo.
"Gary worked hard through rookie minicamp and training camp in 2008, earning himself a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster, the only undrafted rookie to do so that year," Natarajan said. "As the season progressed, Gary continued to impress, and eventually became the first undrafted rookie linebacker to start for the Patriots since Bill Belichick became the team’s head coach in 2000."
In 2008, Guyton played in 15 games, starting twice, and had 34 tackles, 25 of which were solo, and three pass break-ups.
In 2009, Guyton served as the defensive captain for a three-game stretch during which Mayo was sidelined with an injured knee.
During Mayo’s absence, Gary led the team in tackles against the Jets, Falcons and Colts.
"To the Pats’ credit, they rewarded Gary with a new two-year contract following the 2009 season that will keep Gary in a Patriot uniform at least through the 2011 season," Natarajan said. "We were encouraged by the Patriots’ recognition of Gary’s contribution to the team and their desire to keep Gary in New England for the foreseeable future."
But in 2010 the Patriots also drafted Brandon Spikes in the second round. Guyton was once again cast in the shadows after a slight knee injury during training camp gave Spikes the opportunity to emerge as the starter next to Mayo.
"Gary always remained focused and positive, determined to contribute to the team in any manner he could," Natarajan said. "Gary repeatedly would tell me that his reduced playtime served only to keep him focused and working harder than before."
Once again the hard work paid off.
Spikes was suspended for the last four games of this season because of a violation of the league’s substance policy.
Guyton started in place of Spikes against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 12, and recorded three tackles, two of which were solo tackles, recovered a fumble for a touchdown and picked off another pass.
Natarajan said Guyton is emerging as a player on the field, but what isn’t so obvious are the many contributions Guyton makes to the community and to children.
During the Patriots’ home games, Guyton makes public service announcements on the stadium’s video screen asking fans to help "Kick Cancer."
Guyton’s parents, Gary Guyton Sr. and Janice Guyton, are cancer survivors.
During the Patriots’ bye week in October, Guyton flew to Atlanta where he visited sick children at the Egleston Children’s Hospital.
On Nov. 15 he hosted the Gary Guyton Adopt- A-High School Initiative, which offers academic and SAT/ACT assistance to under-privileged students.
"Gary has continued his efforts, begun last year, to raise money for Jared Coppola, a Boston area high school student who was paralyzed when he suffered a C-5 compression fracture during a high school football scrimmage in September 2009," Natarajan said.
In March, Guyton will return to his home town of Hinesville to host the second annual Gary Guyton Sports Fest.
"Gary brings a sense of joy and exuberance to every endeavor he takes on and it is a pleasure to work with Gary and consider him my friend," Natarajan said.
The Patriots will host the Miami Dolphins for the last game of the regular season Sunday at 1 p.m.