Kirby Wilson was there when Kevin Faulk walked through the doors at Foxboro Stadium for the first time.
"He was such a wide-eyed kid," recalled Wilson, the Patriots' running backs coach in Faulk's rookie season of 1999. "When I first met him the first thing you saw was a guy who was passionate about football. Some guys like football. Some guys want to make a living playing football. But with Kevin, there was passion -- for football and his family."
That double dose of passion probably best explains what unfolded Wednesday when Faulk agreed to a one-year contract with the Patriots that could be worth up to $3 million. The deal ensures that Faulk will return for his 12th season in New England, keeping him the longest tenured Patriot in the locker room.
A player with Faulk's physical makeup -- he's 5-foot-8, 202 pounds -- doesn't last 12 seasons in the NFL with the same team without something special inside him.
His family was a key consideration in the decision to stay put. When Faulk walks in the front door of his home each day, he's welcomed by his three kids -- Tanasha, Kevin III and Kevione, who are 15, 13 and 8 -- and his 9-year-old niece and 7-year-old nephew.
"My wife [Latisha] is comfortable here, I'm comfortable here, the kids are comfortable here," Faulk said Wednesday night. "So let's say I was to go somewhere else, how long are you staying there? Maybe one, two years, or three at the most. You're going to start all over for that? Do you really want to do that? I didn't want the kids to have to adjust to a new atmosphere."
So Faulk was locked in to New England from the start. His agent, Raymond Brothers, said that five teams called when free agency began at midnight last Friday, but Faulk declined to take two visits.
Truth be told, while Faulk wanted nothing but to return to New England, the contract he agreed to wasn't what he had hoped it would be in terms of length or dollars. But when you combine the passion for football and family, it was the right decision for him.
"This is a special, special young man, so I'm not shocked at all," Wilson said of Faulk's durability, which was one of the concerns scouts had when he was coming out of Louisiana State in 1999. "He's turned out to be everything everyone thought he could be and more, which is a tribute to him, his desire and his passion. His career speaks for itself. The Patriots organization has done a great job with him over the years in continuing to develop him and put him in a position where he can be successful.
"He's a Patriot in every sense of the word. He's what the franchise, from Mr. Kraft to Bill Belichick, has been about for a lot of years. He's a warrior. He's lasted the test of time."
Wilson, now the Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach, enjoyed going down Memory Lane when it came to Faulk.
Ask Wilson about all the high school highlight tapes he watched as a college coach, and Faulk's tops the list. "Probably the most incredible thing I've ever seen," he said.
Ask him about how Faulk approached the early part of his career, and he talks about all the questions he'd ask. "A ton of them, and they were always the right ones," he said. "You knew his heart was in the right place."
Wilson remembered that two weaknesses in Faulk's game were pass protection and ball security, which are now two of his greatest strengths. He also laughed when recalling a barbeque he had at his home, with Faulk hovering over the grill. "I think he ate everything that came off it, didn't matter what it was," Wilson chuckled. "That guy, he loves to eat."
That day on the back deck of Wilson's home, Faulk told the story of how he took a recruiting trip to Notre Dame coming out of Carencro High. When he got off the plane, he saw snow for the first time, and it didn't take him long to decide that he'd be attending Louisiana State instead.
Wilson turned to him and laughed. "Imagine that," he told Faulk. "And now you get drafted by the New England Patriots, a team that plays in some of the most bizarre weather conditions you'll find."
It was an unconventional pairing.
But it's one that has served both the Patriots and Faulk well, which is why they'll do it again in 2010.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.