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Grieving Wilfork Focuses on Future

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From Associated Press

The thoughts and tears come when Vince Wilfork is alone, usually while he eats, watches television or lies in bed. And the sadness of losing both parents within six months hits harder than any opponent on the football field.

The pain may never end, but the Miami defensive tackle expects it will get easier to handle, especially with so many good things ahead of him.

Wilfork has the national championship game against No. 2 Ohio State on Friday, the birth of his second child in February, his graduation next December and then a probable career in the NFL. He just wishes his parents could be around to share it.

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“It’s not easy to do, but you have to look forward to things,” Wilfork said. “If I dwell on my mother and my dad all the time, I’ll be a sad person, and I know they wouldn’t want me to do that.... They will be very, very, very missed, but I’ll move on from here and make the best of it.”

Having football to fall back on helps.

Wilfork practiced with the top-ranked Hurricanes on Friday for the first time since his mother’s death on Dec. 16.

He missed more than a week of practice, and coaches and teammates weren’t sure he would return for the Fiesta Bowl.

But Wilfork never considered skipping the game. He knew all along he would be here. His parents wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Football is my release,” he said.

Barbara Wilfork, 46, died five weeks after suffering a stroke Nov. 7. Her son missed the Tennessee game to be near her, then returned to school.

Fortunately for him, he grew up about 60 miles north of Miami’s campus, making it possible for him to visit her regularly in the hospital.

So before school, after practice, sometimes between studying videotape and working out, Wilfork would call to tell her he would be there in about half an hour. When 30 minutes had passed, his cell phone would ring. It would be his mother, asking him where he was.

“When I got there, she would see me walking in that door and it would just brighten up her day with that big smile of hers,” Wilfork said.

Her smile is one of the things he’ll miss most. It had come to mean much more since his father, who “taught me everything I know,” died in June from kidney failure as a result of diabetes.

Wilfork spent countless days by his father’s hospital bedside, too, trying to understand all the machines and medications. David Wilfork, 48, died just days after asking for and receiving his son’s national championship ring.

“He was everything to me. Everything,” Wilfork said. “There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t talk to him. If I needed someone to talk to, I always turned to him.”

Now Wilfork finds himself focused on the future:

* The 6-foot-2, 350-pound sophomore expects to make a big impact against the Buckeyes.

* Wilfork and his longtime girlfriend, Bianca, have a 5-year-old son, D'Andre, and a second child on the way. The baby girl, who will be named Destiny, is due Valentine’s Day.

* Wilfork, who was forced to sit out the 2000 season because of test scores, also is on pace to graduate in December, and he promised both parents before they died that he would get his degree. That means putting off the NFL for another year. “I know my mom and my dad would probably kill me if I did [leave school], so I’m not going to break my promise,” he said.

* He probably will be a first-round draft pick in 2004, especially when considering that he leads the Hurricanes with 15 tackles for losses and 29 quarterback hurries, despite missing a game and playing backup to Matt Walters and William Joseph.

“I have a bright future ahead of me, and I can’t let something like this go to waste,” he said.


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