FOXBOROUGH -- Obi Melifonwu and the Oakland Raiders parted ways on Oct. 23 as the second-year safety was waived off injured reserve.
Melifonwu, a 2012 graduate of Grafton High who was a two-time football captain, quickly drew interest from a number of high-profile NFL franchises. In a span of seven days, he worked out for the Dallas Cowoys, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs - and the team he grew up rooting for.
The Patriots met with Melifonwu here on Oct. 26. They came to terms on a two-year deal Monday that includes $100,000 in guaranteed money and officially signed him Tuesday.
As one might suspect, it’s good to be back home.
“Man, it’s a great feeling,” Melifonwu said Thursday with a wide smile. “I feel like everything is coming full circle. To live here and to have been a Patriots’ fan my whole life and to finally get to play for the team that I watched on TV and idolized is definitely something that’s special to me.”
His family seconded the emotion.
“My mom loves it,” said Melifonwu, who has three brothers and a sister. “Anytime you can be closer to one of your kids is a good feeling. So she loves it. My whole family is really excited for me to be back home.”
A fresh start might just be what Melifonwu needs after a challenging year and a half in Oakland.
Melifonwu was remarkably durable in college, missing one game while starting for four seasons at the University of Connecticut. But he endured a series of injuries after the Raiders drafted him in the second round (56th overall) in 2017 following strong showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
The affable 24-year-old was limited to five games, seven tackles and 34 defensive snaps as a rookie. Twenty-six of those snaps came in his lone start, a 33-8 loss to the Patriots at Mexico City last November.
Melifonwu injured his hamstring and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and hip surgery before being placed on season-ending injured reserve in mid-December.
It was more of the same this season as Melifonwu suffered an undisclosed lower body injury less than two weeks into training camp. He cleared waivers in late August and was placed on injured reserve, where he remained until being released last month.
That’s in the past, though, as he’s hearty, healthy and happy.
“I’m good. I’m ready to go,” Melifonwu said following his second practice with the Patriots, both of which he was a full participant.
Joining a team midseason can be an overwhelming experience and, while the past two days were admittedly hectic, settling in at Gillette Stadium has come naturally thanks to the help of his new coaches and teammates.
“It’s been really crazy, but at the same time I’ve been taking it in stride and one day at a time,” Melifonwu said. “I’m just trying to soak in everything from the vets to what the coaches are trying to instill.
“It’s definitely been something that I’ve gotten used to already and I feel right at home. My teammates are great. We have a lot of veterans, especially in my position group.”
The Patriots were undoubtedly attracted to the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Melifonwu because of his size, intelligence, elite athleticism, and possible versatility as the safety has some experience at cornerback. He can also contribute on special teams.
“He has a good skillset, he’s smart,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Melifonwu could make his debut for the Patriots on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. But with the bye week after that, it might make more sense to hold off and give him extra time to get acclimated to the playbook before the Patriots resume play Nov. 25.
While things didn’t work out in Oakland, Melifonwu had nothing but kind words for the franchise that gave him his first NFL break.
“Ever since I was 9 years old I wanted to be in the NFL and I appreciate Oakland for giving me the opportunity,” Melifonwu said. “Not everything works out, but I wish the team the best and, like I said, I appreciate the opportunity they gave me. I honestly want to thank them for giving me that opportunity.”
Rich Garven writes for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette of GateHouse Media.