From Blue Island to New Lenox to New England and now to Super Bowl XLVI, it's been a rocky road for Lincoln Way Central's Rob Ninkovich.
Still, it's one he's glad he took. Growing up on Chicago's far south side, all he knew was working hard.
"Whatever skills you were given, if you just develop those, obviously it's going to take you farther in life," a reflective Ninkovich said while giving Super Bowl press conferences with his gray White Sox cap at his side.
He was cut four times, playing defensive end, then linebacker and even long snapper before the Patriots signed him. Ninkovich's NFL road had lots of turns and roadblocks. But that's nothing to the kid out of Lincoln Way Central High School who had to go to Joliet Junior College before qualifying for Purdue.
It was just another bridge to cross, like the one he helped build working at S & J Steel.
"I was working on a bridge on I-57 ... It was tall, over some water. It wasn't super tall. I was tied off. It was still a dangerous job," the bearded linebacker recalled. "My dad's been doing it for 30 years now. ... It's hard to do. My dad always told me it's a young mans job."
Ninkovich's father wanted to teach his son a lesson about hard work, but also encourage him to stay in college.
"I think that he wanted something better for me. There's nothing wrong with being an iron worker. You're working outside. [It's] physical labor. It's an honorable job," he said.
The younger Ninkovich listened. Though he still works in freezing temperatures, he now gets paid well as a starting linebacker for the New England Patriots.
"I always had big dreams and aspirations. I always had written goals. And at the end of the year, if you can cross off those goals then you're closer to achieving what you want in life," he said.
Ninkovich has one goal left: a Super Bowl ring.