New York Jets linebacker Nick Bellore says the biggest reason he became involved in football as a seventh-grader growing up in Whitefish Bay, Wis., is that "it was a natural thing for a big kid to do."
While also holding a strong passion for hockey during his childhood, Bellore always believed he was best suited for the sport in which he's established a professional career today.
The decision to drop hockey and focus solely on football has guided him along a remarkable journey that now is preparing him for his second season in the NFL.
As an undrafted rookie free agent last season, the 6'1" 250-pounder proved he was capable of performing on the big stage, leading the Jets with 19 special teams tackles in 2011.
However, as a team, the Green & White didn't live up to its preseason hopes, finishing the season 8-8 and failing to reach the playoffs.
"I just think it was a team that had high expectations," Bellore said. "We didn't fulfill them. I think we're starting to set things straight that kind of hurt us last year, and I think the defense is playing great.
"I think everyone is really excited about the offense. I think we do a lot of really good things that cause fits for us defensively."
The Jets have been conducting training camp in Cortland for almost three weeks now. For Bellore, the entire experience away from Florham Park has been rewarding. Primarily a special-teamer, the Central Michigan product spent a portion of Tuesday's practice at fullback, a position he hadn't attempted since high school.
"He's been staying after practice with [RBs coach] Anthony Lynn learning some of that, because you have to sometimes come up with ways to add depth," head coach Rex Ryan said at his news conference yesterday. "Just like we have Cro working with the receivers, Bellore working as a fullback, I think obviously you need to do that because when you go in the games, if someone goes down, you can at least plug somebody in."
Bellore said he felt he did a decent job for not having played the position in so long, adding that it's every linebacker's dream to play fullback.
"I'm not sure how it's all going to play out," he said, "but if they need me to step in there and do it, I will."
He understands that his role on teams could expand this season, too, especially due to the recent knee injury safety Eric Smith suffered. He said he is prepared for that task if it becomes necessary.
"Obviously, especially on special teams for us, Eric's a great player," Bellore said. "It's always nice to have a guy that's got so much experience out there. But he'll be back and I think we can just kind of work off each other."
Bellore, who lists his favorite movie as Apocalypse Now, credits Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff for being such a positive influence. He said Westhoff is an intense coach, yet his approach and demands are fairly simple.
"He's kind of everything for me," Bellore said. "He's the guy you want to have in your corner. You always have to do stuff right. Obviously, he expects a lot of out of me and I hear about it, and I embrace that because it makes me a better football player."
With only one day of practice remaining in Cortland, Bellore is confident he can build off of what he was able to establish during his first season with the Green & White. "It was nice to have the kind of success I had last year," he said. "But I realize that you're either kind of in it or you're always on the cusp. I'll always be a guy that's got to really fight for everything I can get. That year is gone, and I have to have another great year to stay alive in the league."