The Nick of time

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It wasn't so many winters ago when life was dramatically different for Nick Kaczur and the heavy lifting came while working with his brother Chad and the rest of the crew at R. Lancaster Construction in Brantford.

To illustrate the contrast, one needed only to check out the surreal scene that greeted the third-year offensive lineman for the favoured New England Patriots yesterday.

For sights, the emerald green grass at the University of Phoenix Stadium field was sprawled out behind him for the throng on media day, ground he will churn away in the trenches against the New York Giants.

They will be different trenches than those he dug as a labourer, a world away from a guy whose team is poised to complete its perfect season.

"Dug holes, lots of holes," Kaczur said when asked to recall those days. "Poured concrete for sidewalks. Breaking concrete. The usual stuff."

The heavy lifting then was done after he graduated from Brantford Collegiate Institute and before he played U.S. college ball in Toledo.

Working alongside his brother and a dozen or so others, many of whom remain his friends today, Kaczur kept the dream alive.

Alive enough that the physical strain this Sunday will be played out in front of hundreds of millions of viewers world-wide as the Patriots bid to go 19-0.

But it will be heavy lifting just the same as Kaczur lines up across from future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan in what may turn out to be one of the game's most significant and physical battles.

"It's unbelievable, really," Chad Kaczur said this week as he hustled to a job site, talking proudly of his "little" 6-foot-4, 315-pound brother.

"Who would have ever thought that there would be one kid from a little town like Brantford playing for the Patriots and in the Super Bowl going for a perfect season."

Other than the two Kaczurs, perhaps not that many, especially in 1999 and 2000 when he was playing in the Canadian Junior Football League and working construction.

When Kaczur finished high school, he had shown enough talent and was enough of a physical specimen to attract U.S. suitors. Trouble was, his marks weren't good enough and some remedial studies were in order.

So, off to work he went, saving a little cash and bumping up his grades to keep the dream from fading.

"Once he sets his mind to something -- he's a stubborn you know what," Chad Kaczur said. "I mean, once it's in his focus, it doesn't matter what gets in the way."

With some help from Robert Lancaster, who owns the business and was willing to cut Kaczur some slack when it came time to study, Kaczur toiled away. Turns out the time in those other trenches served him well.

When you've taken the round-about road he travelled, the awe factor of playing in the Super Bowl gets watered down.

So, too, does the intimidation of going up against Strahan, who will lead the Giants game plan to get in the face of quarterback Tom Brady.

"I've played against Jason Taylor (of the Dolphins) and Dwight Freeney (of the Colts), I've played against a lot of good guys and he's definitely another one of them," Kaczur said.

"He's a challenge. He knows how to get the power and it seems to come right from his toes to his finger tips. It's definitely going to be a challenge."

In fact, the New York pass rush, which gave Brady fits in the season finale, is one of the main reasons the Giants are given a shot at an upset.

However, Kaczur sat out with a foot injury and Brady is counting on the big boy from Brantford to help make life in the pocket a little easier.

"It's going to be good to have Nick in there this time," Brady said. "It's going to be a challenge facing Michael Strahan.

"Nick has got his work cut out for him for sure. I'm going to have to make sure he gets his sleep this week."

Kaczur's evolution from stud lineman at a second-tier U.S. college, to a third-round pick by the Patriots, to a player who started every game but one this season, has been a testimony to his physical gifts, but also his mental ones.

It was that type of appeal the Argos saw in him, enough to make Kaczur the team's first pick in 2005, even though they were aware the NFL was likely to come calling.

"We liked Nick's athleticism and size," Argos director of player personnel Greg Mohns said recently. "We really thought he was a true blue-collar type of lineman who came and brought his lunch pail every day and went to work hard.

"We thought he had some nastiness and a feisty temperament that you don't always see in an offensive lineman. Obviously, the Patriots saw some of the same things."

Though his fellow linemen tease him mercilessly about his Canadian roots, they also praise him.

"He has played a lot over his three years here and even the times when he has been dinged up he has played at a high level," Matt Light said. "That just shows how tough a player he is and how he fits in to what we do here."

He may be a big-timer now, but brother Chad says he is still the small-town kid he grew up with. As such, he appreciates the frequent family visits and the support he gets from home.

"We try to get there for him as much as we can, he's that kind of a guy, the kind of guy who didn't like to be too far from home," said Chad, who attended seven games, including the AFC championship.

They will be there this weekend, some 15 strong. Kaczur's two brothers will be in atendance as will his mother Janet and fiance Lindsey, whom he will marry in three weeks.

The rooting section at home will be large, evoking memories of Kaczur's childhood when he knew what it was like to worship a local hero.

When asked what his favourite sports team growing up, Kaczur didn't blink.

"I was always just a big Gretzky fan, really, wherever he went," Kaczur said. "Every kid growing up in Brantford idolized him, obviously."

Safe to say every kid in Brantford will have a different reason for watching this year's Super Bowl than ever before.


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