Dwayne Hendricks had a lot of people to call after signing a free-agent contract with the New York Giants on Sunday.
The Millville native wanted to let everyone - family members, his former high school coaches and teammates, his coaches at the University of Miami - know that he was going to get a shot at the NFL.
But they would have to wait a few minutes. First, he had to tell Jeanette Pata.
"I owed her at least that much," Hendricks said Monday in a phone interview. "She took me in as family when I was so far away from home (at Miami). I can never repay her for that. I was honored to be able to tell her I was getting the opportunity with the Giants."
While at Miami, Hendricks' roommates included Hurricanes defensive end Bryan Pata, one of Jeanette's 12 children. On Nov. 7, 2006, Bryan Pata was killed by a bullet to the back of the head, just as he was walking through the parking lot toward the apartment he shared with Hendricks and Pata's girlfriend, Jada Brody.
According to Hendricks, the crime has yet to be solved, leaving him and Pata's family without a sense of closure.
"I talk to his mother at least once a week and I talk to one of his brothers (Fednol Pierre) twice a week," Hendricks said. "There's really not much we can do about it at this point. I just hope that justice will be served someday."
Hendricks, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle, was bypassed in the seven-round draft over the weekend but heard from five teams once it was over.
The Giants, Atlanta, Baltimore and Seattle called him Sunday night, then the Miami Dolphins contacted him early Monday.
"I thought I had a chance to be drafted by the Seahawks in the sixth or seventh round," Hendricks said. "They flew me out to Seattle two weeks ago for an interview and workout and they told I did pretty well. I might have signed with the Dolphins if they had called me earlier because I went to college down there.
"The Giants actually called me before the draft and said I was on their draft board, then called again afterward with an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. It's pretty close to home, and I get a chance to learn from one of the greatest defensive lines in the league. Even if I don't make the team, other teams will see that I was there and maybe give me a chance."
The Giants did not draft a defensive tackle with any of their nine selections over the weekend, but are loaded at that position. There are eight defensive tackles on the current roster, including veteran free agents Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty.
"I was an Eagles fan growing up in Millville because of their great defense, but they didn't call," Hendricks said. "The way I look at it is the Giants are a great team and I'm honored that they thought enough of me to want to sign me. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and what I do with it is up to me."
Hendricks knows how to take advantage of opportunities. Besides enjoying a solid football career with the Hurricanes, he also graduated last May with a double major in business management and marketing. Hendricks, who had a season of eligibility left, was taking graduates classes.
On his frequent visits to Millville High School, his talks to students are geared toward that accomplishment more than football.
"I come back and try to do as much as I can for the communitiy," Hendricks said. "I try to be a positive role model for the kids. I just want them to know that if they put their minds to it, they can do anything with their life."
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