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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Affable and enormous, fan favorite Wilfork rocks Nashua

NASHUA – So eager were Austin and Connor Decoster to get to meet their favorite Patriot up close and personal Tuesday night that even the prospect of a nearly 3-hour ride from their Maine home didn’t faze the young brothers a bit.

The reward was a visit, albeit brief, with popular New England Patriots captain Vince Wilfork, who greeted young and old, big and small alike and inked his name on just about anything put in front of him during a 90-minute appearance at the Arena sports bar and nightclub. ...

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NASHUA – So eager were Austin and Connor Decoster to get to meet their favorite Patriot up close and personal Tuesday night that even the prospect of a nearly 3-hour ride from their Maine home didn’t faze the young brothers a bit.

The reward was a visit, albeit brief, with popular New England Patriots captain Vince Wilfork, who greeted young and old, big and small alike and inked his name on just about anything put in front of him during a 90-minute appearance at the Arena sports bar and nightclub.

“Oh, yeah,” Austin DeCosta managed with a slight smile when asked if he thought Wilfork, a load of a man at 6 feet, 2 inches and 325 pounds, looked as big in person as he does on TV.

Although tickets to the event and the items Wilfork signed didn’t come cheap, individuals and families turned out in droves, many wearing Patriots jackets and other gear, including both the blue and the old red uniform shirts bearing Wilfork’s number 75.

The big guy’s visit was arranged by New England Pictures, a Manchester-based promoter and memorabilia dealer that is also bringing Bruins forward Milan Lucic to the Arena on March 26, according to owner Jeff Sherman.

“Bringing the athletes to the people gives (the autographs) a certain authenticity,” Sherman said, adding that the company typically donates leftover signed memorabilia to charity auctions in the region.

As organizers announced instructions to visitors over the loudspeaker, Caitlin Grunbeck bobbed and weaved with her camera, attempting to score a few decent shots of her boyfriend, Chris Saroka, with Wilfork.

The Gloucester, Mass., residents came away with a freshly signed Patriots helmet and autographed photo of Wilfork in action on the gridiron. Grunbeck didn’t talk to Wilfork: “I was just trying to take pictures,” she said.

It was nose tackle meets nose tackle at least once Tuesday night, when 11-year-old Matthew Valcourt of Westford, Mass., reached Wilfork’s table.

“That’s his position too,” Wendy Turcotte, Matthew’s aunt, said as she and her husband, Ryan, balanced a Patriots jacket, two Wilfork uniform shirts and three large posters in their arms.

Wilfork signed them all, bringing a big smile to Matthew’s face – a grin almost as big as the one he flashed when, his aunt and uncle said, he got tickets to the Patriots-Miami game for his birthday in December.

The well-organized and carefully regulated event ran smoothly despite the large turnout. If there was a downside to the format, it was the brief window fans had to chat with Wilfork.

“They move you right along, that’s for sure,” said Jay DeCoster, a member of the family that operated the large poultry farm in Turner, Maine, for 50 years until 2011.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).