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Jun 15, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) arrives during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex.

After Dont’a Hightower opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to concerns about COVID-19, rumors began swirling online that the 31-year-old linebacker would stay way from the game, and retire before the 2021 season. On Thursday Hightower spoke with the media for the first time since deciding to opt out, and reaffirmed his commitment to the team for the upcoming season.

“I wouldn’t be out here doing this for free,” he said, referencing his attendance not only at the mandatory minicamp practice but also last week’s voluntary OTA’s.

“The opt-out was for 2020 (sic), and that was 2020 (sic),” Hightower said when asked if the time away from the game led to him even considering stepping away. “All the rumors about about retirement, y’all had me thinking someone was trying to kick me out.”

“When I did what I did, it was for what I felt was best for my family,” Hightower continued, explaining his reasoning for not playing last season didn’t have to do with a lack of desire to play football. “If I had to do it again, if I had to go back and do it, I would absolutely do it again. It was really just for the season…I enjoyed my time at home with my son and wife. And I’m glad to be back at work.”

Asked later on about his commitment to playing this season, Hightower seemed eager to put the topic to bed. “I don’t know what y’all want for me to say, man. I’m here. I’m working. I’m in minicamp,” he exclaimed. “Hopefully that knocks all those questions out.”

Hightower’s comments weren’t his only noteworthy moment on Tuesday. During the team’s second minicamp practice, he made an incredibly athletic play, launching himself in the air to intercept a Mac Jones pass during team drills.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.