FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — There will be torn loyalties Sunday among members of the Winovich family of Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania.
Tried-and-true fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Winoviches have apparently adapted to the premise that 24-year-old Chase Winovich, a rookie NFL linebacker, will be playing for the rival New England Patriots when the season starts for both teams Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Most of the family is on board with the new loyalty, Winovich said Monday.
"There's a pretty extended Winovich clan," he said, "but for the most part, we definitely have."
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Michigan product, selected by the Patriots with a third-round pick in the April draft, has also heard similar tales from friends back in the Pittsburgh suburb.
"I've seen a couple of people from my hometown publicly display this dilemma of having to root for the Steelers, and having a neighbor or friend or high school teammate also playing for the Patriots," Winovich said. "There's a bit of a conundrum for them.
"But really, I'm not worried about all that. I know I have a job to do, whatever that may be on Sunday. Whatever role that is is not necessarily my decision, so I've just got to make sure I'm ready to go. It's going to be fun."
Winovich made a positive impression almost immediately following his conversion from collegiate defensive end to pro outside linebacker during the preseason. He was the team's leader in sacks with 2½ over three preseason games, and the fact that he was held out of the finale against the New York Giants was a sign his spot on the 53-man roster was assured.
Winovich, who earned third-team AP All-America status as a senior at Michigan, impressed the Patriots with his high motor and consistency. Fans also embraced him for the long blond hair flowing freely from under his helmet.
But few rookies escape the rituals of training camp, and Winovich's locks were no exception. Television cameras captured a moment in the preseason finale when none other than Tom Brady sneaked up on the rookie on the sideline and, brandishing a pair of scissors, snipped away.
The damage to Winovich's hairdo wasn't severe, and he took it in good spirits.
"I think a lot of people would pay a lot of money to have Tom as a barber," Winovich said. "And luckily, I kind of had that option for free. People saw him take a snippet out back . literally, a snippet. On the sideline, too. Yeah, that was cool. I got to watch the Patriots on the sideline while getting my hair cut by Tom Brady. It's an experience, for sure."
Winovich said he didn't develop a deep hatred for the Patriots growing up, even though his new team has a 9-4 record against the Steelers, including two playoff wins, since the two teams opened Gillette Stadium in 2002, a 30-14 New England win.
"It's not like the Patriots were an in-division rival for the Steelers growing up," he said. "They had a lot of competitive games, and are both historic programs, and I'm just thankful to be here. I'm just having fun, taking it one step at a time, and the same goal is always to be the best player I can be. And as dependable as I can be."
NOTES: the Patriots placed their first-round draft choice, wide receiver N'Keal Harry, on injured reserve with an ankle injury, and re-signed veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas, who was released on Saturday after battling back from an Achilles tendon injury. Thomas practiced with the team early Monday, but was not made available to reporters later.