FOXBOROUGH — It’s 14 degrees at 5:55 a.m. and the promise of daylight is overshadowed by the headlights of a huge Ford truck. Patriots center David Andrews arrives at Edge Performance Systems for his daily workout with a smile on his face.
He wears shorts, a light jacket, and he carries a Target tote bag. A Georgia baseball cap covers his NFL — Not For Long — full head of hair. By mid-morning, it will be shaved off for charity.
The five-time Patriots co-captain, who has won two Super Bowls since arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2015, is in good spirits. He had right shoulder surgery five weeks ago and was recently liberated from a sling.
He has two charitable appearances on the calendar on this day. So why on Earth would he arise at 5 a.m. to work with a personal trainer?
“Doing something hard and uncomfortable,” he says. “Maybe in my sick and twisted mind [I think], ‘Does that give me some competitive advantage over my opponent?’ ”
Follow Andrews around for a day, and it becomes clear that his passion for football — and for making a difference — is paramount.
He’s a working-class hero on and off the gridiron. In the trenches, he growls like a lion, and with children, he’s as gentle as a puppy dog.
He wears a reminder of how lucky he has been.
On his right wrist is a black band honoring Marine Corporal Nicholas G. Xiarhos of Yarmouth Port. He died in 2009 at age 21 in Afghanistan while going to the rescue of fellow Marines in combat. The wristband was a gift from Xiarhos’s father.
“It’s just to remind me how lucky we are, how blessed we are,” says Andrews. “To not complain about chicken [expletive].”
Center is perhaps the most thankless job in the NFL. Andrews is the player closest to the enemy.
“It’s the only thing in sports where it’s five guys in a phone booth working together,” he says, sipping a large black Dunkin’, no sugar, post-workout.
“You’re only as good as your weakest link. So you can have a four All-Pro offensive alignment and one guy that’s not very good, you’re not going to have a very good offensive line.”
After family, “Football is 1a” for Andrews. “Charity is 1b.”
That’s why he’s in Quincy at the “Saving by Shaving” event in early March. It raises millions of dollars annually for cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Andrews has appeared at hospitals and playgrounds. He has read at schools, honored veterans, and supported military dog rescues. In 2020, he was presented with the Patriots’ Ron Burton Community Service Award for leadership on and off the field.
Former Patriots lineman Matt Light calls Andrews a “throwback.”
“He’s a leader, which is why he’s a captain, which is why he’s the guy that Bill [Belichick] trusts to help make the best decisions for the team,” Light explains.
Light is in Quincy to get his head shaved. Fellow Patriots alumni Joe Andruzzi and Kyle Van Noy are also there, alongside Andrews.
Afterward, freshly clipped Governor Charlie Baker puts an arm around Andrews and takes a selfie.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who chose not to be clipped, sticks his tongue out at Andrews, laughs, and gives him a hug.
Back in his truck, Andrews FaceTimes his wife, Mackenzie. She says the haircut is not as bad as she feared.
“My hair grows back fast,” he says.
Mackenzie and David met at the University of Georgia. She was a cheerleader, and he was smitten, sending a photo of her to friends and proclaiming he was going to marry her. She finally kissed him on a dare, and he eventually proposed at the 50-yard line. They were married by one of his former coaches five years ago and have a 6-month-old son, two dogs, and a cat.
The family loves living in New England.
“90 percent of our relationships are up here,” Andrews says.
He’s spending the offseason in the area because he’s reporting to Gillette Stadium for rehab.
“We’re so spoiled as athletes,” Andrews says. “There’s one guy at the Patriots whose sole job is to get me back on the field. How many people get to say they have that?”
Andrews is putting in the work so he’s ready to protect Jones when the season comes back around.
“The team goes as the quarterback goes,” Andrews explains. “I think the same comes from the center because you’re right in the middle. Call it his second-in-command.”
Jones and Andrews have a good relationship.
After Georgia beat Alabama in the national championship in January, Andrews says he taped Jones’s locker shut with Bulldog stickers to tease the former Crimson Tide QB.
Jones has impressed Andrews as a natural leader.
“I think Mac does a really good job of buying into how we try to do things the ‘Patriot Way,’ ” Andrews said. “You can’t imagine the pressure. The media. The pressure you get put on by other people.”
Not immune to nerves
Andrews remembers being “scared to death” of Belichick as a rookie in 2015. In a preseason scrimmage at Gillette Stadium, Andrews fumbled. Both he and Tom Brady had to run a lap. No. 12 was not happy. Afterward, Belichick called Andrews over to the bench.
“I’m just about to get dog cussed, and I’m huffing and puffing and he’s like, ‘Look, David, when you have this football, the fate of our organization is in your hands and we’re trusting you with it.’
“It really challenged me,” Andrews says. “I think I can count on one hand of my seven years that I’ve had a bad snap. It really just drives me to be as good as I can with it.”
That incident was a long time ago. Andrews is a veteran now, but he still gets the nerves. He estimates he throws up before games 65-75 percent of the time.
It used to be worse. Take, for example, his first NFL game in 2015.
“I remember playing Pittsburgh,” he says. ”I’ve probably already thrown up 10 times right before the game and I’m trying not to throw up on myself on the sideline.
“I mean, I was a kid. It’s Tom Brady. It’s the New England Patriots. They just won a Super Bowl, and it’s one of the most famed organizations in sports, against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night. Everybody’s watching.”
One of the highlights of Andrews’s career was coming back from the 28-3 deficit against the Falcons in his first Super Bowl. His direct snap to James White helped the Patriots score 2 points and cut the Falcons’ lead to 8 in the fourth quarter.
But it almost didn’t happen. The play was installed on the Friday before the game and it was a disaster.
“I snapped this ball in practice, I think it went into orbit it was so bad,” Andrews said. “We didn’t run it again. And I’m like, well, that play is out. And I’ll be damned if we didn’t call it in that moment.”
Although he is not yet 30, Andrews has the wisdom of a coach.
His great uncle is Dan Reeves, who coached the Falcons. He used to let young David hang out at training camp and play catch with Michael Vick.
“He told me, ‘When you go in between those lines, you have to be two different people,’ and that’s something that’s always stuck,” Andrews said.
“My wife laughs at it, because outside of football, I’m not very confrontational. I like to party and have fun, but nothing gets under my skin. Someone can call me a fat ass, I’m like, whatever. But someone might touch a quarterback in the game, and I’m not going to like it.”
That happened in December during the Patriots’ 33-21 loss to the Bills at Gillette. Andrews got in the grill of Buffalo’s Matt Milano after a late hit on Jones. He received a taunting penalty and was later fined.
“It’s never worth 15 yards,” he said. “It felt like the right thing to do at the time. [But] I can’t hurt the football team.”
He’s a man so focused on his sport. So why does Andrews take a day in March to hit not one but two charity events? Because growing up, his parents emphasized giving back to the community.
Andrews’s father, who was in the nursing home business, encouraged David to volunteer and comfort those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“I think anything you can do to just impact people and put a smile on someone’s face at the end of the day is worth it,” he says.
At Abby’s House, a women’s and children’s shelter in Worcester, Andrews fumbles the first pancakes he makes before changing spatulas and finding the zone. Told he’ll never beat Bobby Flay, he laughs.
“I had to use my left hand,” he smirks.
After distributing breakfasts, Andrews meets privately with mothers and their children. He had given a $10,000 donation in December so folks could buy holiday presents, and he wanted to meet the families.
On the way home, Andrews says it feels good to help out.
”I hate when people will be like, ‘Oh, I don’t have enough time now,’ ” he says. “No, you’ve got enough time. You get your butt up and you go do it.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.