Just about every afternoon last summer when Kelvin Arrington would arrive home from work, his son would ask him to throw the football out on their Accokeek cul-de-sac. The young player wanted to improve his hand-eye coordination and practice catching the ball at its highest point, areas his coach had asked him to address.
Even on the days when he felt like staying inside and kicking his feet up, Pops would move the cars out of the way to pass with his boy, sometimes playing a game they called “Driveback,” in which each would throw the ball as far as he could, and the receiver had to sling the ball from the spot where it was caught.
It’s a father-son scene that plays out on streets and in back yards across the country. Only in this case, the son was 2004 Gwynn Park graduate Kyle Arrington, a starting cornerback for the New England Patriots, who was house-bound because of the NFL lockout.
Thanks in part to playing catch with his father like a couple of overgrown kids in their Simmons Acres neighborhood, Arrington this season is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with seven and will be a key component for the New England defense when the Patriots play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday night in Indianapolis.
“Kyle would always win and end up in someone’s yard,” Kelvin Arrington, 56, said with a chuckle this week recalling last summer’s passing sessions. “We would throw for hours to the point where the sun would go down and I’d say, ‘Okay, my eyes are not as good as they used to be, so I have to stop.’ ”
Kyle Arrington, the player who for a time in his youth could be consoled after a loss only by taking a trip to Toys R Us for yet another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle — “He had about 15 Raphaels,” Kelvin Arrington said — is one of the more unlikely Super Bowl starters.
He played only one year of varsity football at Prince George’s County school Gwynn Park, on a Maryland 3A state runner-up team in 2003. Major college programs did not bite, so he ended up at Hofstra, which dropped football two years ago. He did not get drafted. He signed with Philadelphia and got cut. Twice. He hooked on with Tampa Bay and got cut. Twice.
“I don’t think he ever got down on himself and said he couldn’t do it,” said Durrell Scott, a former Gwynn Park teammate who has known Arrington since fifth grade. “He always kept hopeful and optimistic that he’d make it somewhere.”
Arrington was languishing on the Patriots’ practice squad in 2009 when Cleveland sought him. He was to become a Brown. But while awaiting a travel itinerary from a Cleveland team representative, New England offered him a spot on the active roster.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Arrington said by phone recently. “That definitely gave me comfort in knowing that they wanted me here and wanted me to be a Patriot. It was a blessing.”
“Am I surprised at where he is today?” Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes said. “No, I’m not surprised, because he’s a listener and a go-getter. He won’t take no for an answer. If the door is closed, he’s going to come a little harder the next time.”
Arrington was the Patriots’ leading special teams tackler his first season and worked his way into a starting spot in the secondary last year. His seven interceptions this season are more than double the number of pickoffs he had during his first two NFL seasons and his Hofstra career combined.
One of those seven interceptions came in the back of the end zone off Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Nov. 6. The 5-foot-10, 196-pound Arrington also is second on the team in tackles, which might surprise some of his former high school teammates, who back then razzed him about his lack of physicality.
“It was embarrassing,” Arrington said. “It’s like a shot at your manhood. Who wants to be labeled soft? You are what you are on film. I’m out there on film missing tackles and not hitting. Perception is reality. I couldn’t fault them.”
Arrington will marry former Gwynn Park classmate Vashonda Murphy in March. With a changing home life and resolved NFL labor issues, he will have a busier offseason than he had last year, when he spent a lot of time playing Driveback with his dad.
But if Patriots Coach Bill Belichick again requests that he work on his ball skills, Arrington might need to tell his workout partner from last summer to move the car and crank up his arm.
How about it, Pops?
“If he wants to throw that football,” Kelvin Arrington said, “we’ll go back out there and throw it.”